New think­ing on drink­ing

BE­LIEF HOLDS LIT­TLE WA­TER

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - FRONT PAGE -

A NEW re­search anal­y­sis has chal­lenged the idea that a glass of wine at din­ner will help you to live longer.

MANY peo­ple be­lieve a glass of wine with din­ner will help them live longer and health­ier, but the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence is shaky at best, ac­cord­ing to a new re­search anal­y­sis.

The find­ings, pub­lished in the March 2016 is­sue of the Jour­nal of Stud­ies on Al­co­hol and Drugs, may sound sur­pris­ing af­ter years of news sto­ries ty­ing mod­er­ate drink­ing to a range of health ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing a lower heart dis­ease risk and longer life.

But the new anal­y­sis took a deeper look at those stud­ies – 87 in all – and found that many were flawed, with de­signs sug­gest­ing ben­e­fits where there were likely none.

Pro­fes­sor Tanya Chikritzhs, head of the al­co­hol pol­icy re­search pro­gram at the Na­tional Drug Re­search In­sti­tute, Curtin Univer­sity, said the def­i­ni­tion of ab­stain­ers had been a key is­sue.

Most of­ten, stud­ies had com­pared mod­er­ate drinkers – those who had up to two drinks per day – with cur­rent ab­stain­ers. The prob­lem is that non-drinkers can in­clude peo­ple in poor health who have cut out al­co­hol.

“A key ques­tion is, then, who are these mod­er­ate drinkers be­ing com­pared against?” Dr Chikritzhs said.

When the re­search team cor­rected for those ab­stainer bi­ases and cer­tain other study-de­sign is­sues, mod­er­ate drinkers no longer showed a longevity ad­van­tage.

Only 13 of the 87 stud­ies avoided bi­as­ing the ab­stainer com­par­i­son group and these showed no health ben­e­fits.

Dr Chikritzhs said be­fore those corrections were made, it was ac­tu­ally oc­ca­sional drinkers—peo­ple who had less than one drink per week— who lived the long­est, and it was un­likely that such in­fre­quent drink­ing would be the rea­son for their bet­ter health.

“Those peo­ple would be get­ting a bi­o­log­i­cally in­signif­i­cant dose of al­co­hol,” she said.

In ad­di­tion, she noted, stud­ies have linked mod­er­ate drink­ing to an im­plau­si­bly wide range of health ben­e­fits.

The study did not look at whether cer­tain types of al­co­hol, such as red wine, are tied to longer life, but if that were the case, Dr Chikritzhs said it would be un­likely that the al­co­hol con­tent it­self de­served the credit.

“There’s a general idea out there that al­co­hol is good for us, be­cause that’s what you hear re­ported all the time,” she said.

“But there are many rea­sons to be scep­ti­cal.”

Tanya Chikritzhs.

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