The Expository Files

Alcohol Benefits Debunked

An article from the BBC website that debunks alleged health benefits of alcohol
Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 01:08 GMT
02:08 UK
Alcohol Benefits Debunked

Moderate alcohol consumption has no positive effect on health - contrary to a number of studies - while heavy drinking doubles men's chances of dying from a stroke, research has found.

The large-scale study took place over 21 years, and while it confirmed that binge drinking is extremely bad for health, it contradicted studies showing reduced levels of heart disease among people who regularly drink a little.

There was no significant increase in the risk of heart disease among those drinking most, but men who drank more than 35 units - or 17 pints of
beer - of alcohol a week had more than double the chance of dying from a stroke.

The Stroke Association, which funded the study, said the findings should raise awareness of the connection between alcohol and strokes, particularly among the young.

International pattern

Professor George Davey Smith, of the department of social medicine at Bristol University, was a co-author of the paper, which appears in the
British Medical Journal.

"We didn't find any benefit or any harm in low-level regular drinking," he told BBC News Online.

"What we did find was that people who were drinking most had more than twice the mortality from stroke, which is not an inconsiderable effect."

He said the findings tied in with international studies that found that men in Finland who regularly drank enough to suffer a hangover and men in Russia who went binge-drinking had higher death rates.

"The bottom line is that binge drinking is not good for one."

Long-term study

The team studied 5,766 men from various workplaces in Glasgow, Clydebank and Grangemouth over a 21-year period.

For non-drinkers and moderate drinkers - up to 14 units of alcohol a week - the risk of any cause of death was similar. This was regardless of whether they drank beer, wine, or spirits.

However, people who drank more than 22 units a week - the equivalent of 11 pints of beer a week or half a bottle of wine a day - increased their
chances of dying with every drink.

Many of the heavy drinkers in the study also smoked and had poor diets, but the researchers adjusted their findings for to take these factors into account.

Statistical U-turn

They explained that earlier studies may have shown improved health among moderate drinkers simply through a statistical quirk.

Many of the previous studies had shown results in the form of a U graph, with moderate drinkers having the lowest death rates, while heavy and
non-drinkers had the highest.

However, such figures could be skewed because sick people are more likely to be non-drinkers - they do not drink because they are ill, rather
than being ill because they do not drink.

Spotlight on stroke risk

Eoin Redahan, of the Stroke Association, said: "This research puts the spotlight very much on the effects of over-drinking.

"While the majority of people probably do not drink two and a half pints each and every day they may still be exceeding the 35 units if they drink eight or nine pints on Fridays and Saturdays.

"We are particularly concerned about binge drinking and while this report concentrated on men who are now aged between 56 and 85, young people should be aware that they are not immune from strokes.

"It is not just a condition of the elderly. More than 200 new cases of stroke occur every week in those under 55 years old."

Sent to us by Frank Walton
From Expository Files 10.1; January 2003