Medicine

Major study debunks myth that moderate drinking can be healthy

Major study debunks myth that moderate drinking can be healthy

"Alcohol not only increases blood pressure but can also cause weight gain, irregular heartbeat, diabetes and liver damage".

People who have a drink or two a day have always been thought to have a lower risk of stroke and heart problems than nondrinkers. One drink was defined as either a small glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a single measure of spirits.

The research was published online Thursday in the journal, Lancet.

The authors say this means previous signs of an increased risk of stroke at low alcohol consumption are not down to moderate drinking offering protection, but rather that there are differences between moderate and non-drinkers that muddy the waters - for example people already in poorer health might not drink.

Moderate drinkers, consuming one or two drinks per day, were at a 10% to 15% higher risk.

Those with decreased alcohol intake also had lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of a stroke. It causes an unpleasant reaction and makes them feel unwell.

"The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to shed light on how much alcohol contributes to global death and disability".

"Using genetics is a novel way to assess the health effects of alcohol, and to sort out whether moderate drinking really is protective, or whether it's slightly harmful".

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Professor Zhengming Chen, co-author from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, at the University of Oxford, said: "There are no protective effects of moderate alcohol intake against stroke".

According to the Irish Heart Foundation, 10,000 Irish people suffer a stroke each year, and 2,000 Irish people die from stroke each year.

About 160,000 of the participants had the two gene variants.

At first glance, the results appeared to find a protective effect against stroke for those drinking about 100g of alcohol a week - about four large glasses of wine. The researchers looked at how many had strokes or heart attacks, and compared them to participants without the variants and to the women with the variants.

"The fact that this is not true for Chinese women, who tend not to drink whatever their genes, suggests this effect is due to the alcohol rather than the genes themselves".

Although people who have one or two alcoholic drinks a day had previously been observed to have a slightly lower risk of stroke and heart attack than non-drinkers, it was not known whether this was because moderate drinking was slightly protective, or whether it was because non-drinkers had other underlying health problems (eg, being former drinkers who had stopped because of illness). The team says this backs up the conclusion that it is alcohol consumption that is behind the link to stroke risk seen in men.

Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Tai-Hing Lam and Dr Au Yeung, from the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, call for a WHO Framework Convention for Alcohol Control (FCAC), similar to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC): "Alcohol control is complex and stronger policies are required".