It was so comforting to think that a daily glass of wine or a stiff drink
packed health benefits, warding off disease and extending life.

But a distillation of the latest research reveals a far more sobering
truth: Considering all the potential benefits and risks, some
researchers now question whether any amount of alcohol can be
considered good for you.

Compared with lifetime teetotalers, people who consume seven to
13 drinks a week are 53% more likely to have high blood pressure,
defined as 130/80 or higher, according to a recent study of 17,059
U.S. adults published in theJournal of the American College of

High blood pressure, known as the “silent killer,” raises the risk of
heart attack, stroke, and dementia. The study’s lead researcher,
Amer Aladin of Wake Forest Baptist Health, offers some frank
advice: “If you are drinking a moderate or large amount of alcohol,
ask your provider to check your blood pressure at each visit and
help you cut down your drinking and eventually quit.”

For years, moderate drinking — typically defined as one drink
(such as regular beer or a glass of wine) per day for women and up
to two for men — had been billed as a way to reduce the risk
of stroke, in which a vessel carrying blood to the brain bursts or is

But a study earlier this year, involving more than 500,000
men and women in China and published in the Lancet, refutes
that claim. “There are no protective effects of moderate alcohol intake against
stroke,” says one of the study’s co-authors, University of Oxford
professor Zhengming Chen. “


Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the chances of having a stroke.” “The notion that one or two drinks a day is
doing us good may just be wishful thinking.”
Another new study examined self-reported drinking habits and
mental well-being of people in Hong Kong and the United States,
and how those factors changed over a four-year period. The
researchers compared lifetime abstainers to moderate drinkers to
moderate drinkers who quit. “Quitting drinking even at moderate levels was shown to be linked
to a favorable change in mental well-being in both Chinese and
Americans,” said study team member Michael Ni, who conducted
the research with colleagues at the University of Hong Kong. The
effect was most notable among women, the researchers report in
the Canadian Medical Association Journal. “Our study provides more evidence suggesting caution in
recommending moderate drinking as part of a healthy diet,” Ni
says. Why so many misconceptions?

For several years now, scientists have been examining a new mix
of evidence suggesting moderate drinking isn’t all wine and roses. Five years ago, a review of 50 studies found that reducing alcohol
intake, even for moderate drinkers, improves blood pressure and
lowers the risk of heart disease. “


Contrary to what earlier reports have shown, it now appears that any exposure to alcohol has a
negative impact upon heart health,” reported Michael Holmes, a
University of Pennsylvania researcher who co-authored the
study in the journal BMJ. A big flaw in many previous studies of alcohol consumption is that
they included people who had quit drinking for health reasons,
and so got recorded as unhealthy nondrinkers. Meanwhile, many
people who drank may have been healthy at the time a study was

A review of 45 studies, done in 2017, accounted for that. It
found that late-life nondrinkers don’t drink because they’re in
poor health, while older people who aren’t sick tend to drink.

But it’s not the drinking that led to their health status, the researchers
say, leading to their conclusion that there’s no benefit to moderate
drinking. “

The notion that one or two drinks a day is doing us good may just
be wishful thinking,” Tim Stockwell, study team member from the
University of Victoria in Canada, said back then. Few were listening. And this new message on the perils of any
amount of drinking may be getting lost, too.


Globally, alcohol consumption per capitarose 10.2% between 1990 and 2017 and is
expected to continue rising, according to a study earlier this year
in the Lancet.

In the United States, already ahead of many
countries on per capita alcohol consumption, the figure rose 5.4%. Meanwhile, alcohol is on the International Agency for Research on
Cancer’s list of known carcinogens. The body breaks alcohol down
into acetaldehyde, a chemical known to damage DNA and prevent
the body from repairing it, setting up the possible growth of
various cancers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.


What’s more, some 88,000 people in the United States die each
year from alcohol-related causes, making it the third-leading
preventable cause of death behind tobacco and the combined
category of poor diet and physical inactivity. The CDC offers this blunt advice: “If you don’t drink, don’t start
drinking because of any possible health benefits.” Negatives outweigh possible positives
One of the most comprehensive pieces of research giving a
thumbs-down to moderate drinking came out last year,
when researchers reported their analysis of data from 592 separate
studies on the health risks of alcohol, and 694 studies on alcohol
consumption. “

Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some
conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated
with alcohol increase with any amount,” said lead author Max
Griswold of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the
University of Washington.

The study, published in the Lancet,
found a “strong association between alcohol consumption and the
risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases.”


Among other
findings, just one drink daily was linked to a 13% increased risk of
breast cancer, 17% increased risk of esophageal cancer, and 13%
higher risk of cirrhosis of the liver. In an accompanying comment in the Lancet, Robyn Burton, a
King’s College London researcher, wrote: “

The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous.” She called the study the most
comprehensive look ever at the global burden of alcohol
consumption. Like other researchers, Griswold acknowledges “potential
protective effects” of alcohol for heart disease and diabetes. “However, our study found a much more marginal protective
effect than previous studies and found those benefits were
outweighed by the risks,” he says now. “

More recent studies have
been finding that the protective effect was likely due
to confounding variables rather than a causal effect.” The shifting advice on alcohol “is very confusing for people,” says
Benjamin Han, an assistant professor of medicine at NYU
Langone Health whose research team recently found 10.6% of
seniors are binge drinking — a particularly unhealthy habit.

Han points out that moderate levels of alcohol can be risky for older
people with health issues, or for women already at risk of
developing breast cancer. “I think of alcohol use in a health context and what risks people
are comfortable with,” Han says. “Low risk does not mean no
risk.” Elemental Your life, sourced by science. A new Medium publication about health and wellness.

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