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The latest health news to reach the newspapers, television and social media involve the results of the latest study published in The Lancet which looked at the effects of consuming alcohol upon the health of various global populations.
Now there has been a great deal of hype regarding the impact that the results of this study has had upon how folks understand their relationship with alcohol as part of their lifestyle choices.
“Safest level of alcohol consumption is none, worldwide study shows”.
Before you get too concerned about this headline, I think it may be important to understand this study, how it was designed and what it was designed to measure.
This study was massive in that it involved the combination of more than a thousand alcohol studies from various data sources. The study also assessed data from death and disability records involving 195 countries and territories between 1990 and 2016. The main outcomes of this study were to measure the relationship between alcohol consumption and the development of risk factors for different health issues.
The results of this study indicated that no amount of alcohol consumption was safe with regard to any increased, associated health risks. This study was designed to look at health risks of large populations of people regardless of other mitigating factors like individual lifestyle, socioeconomic class, current health history and prior health risk factors. The study also was developed to look at a very large group of people in order to have higher levels of statistical power so small differences in risk could be measured.
According to the lead author of this study, “What has been underappreciated, what’s surprising is that no amount of drinking is good for you”
When you measure 23 risk factors for human health over the period of 15 years in millions of people living in diverse areas of the planet while utilizing this type of statistical analysis…you can expect this result!
“People should no longer think that a drink or 2 a day is good for you. What’s best for you is not to drink at all”. Lead author.
From a global perspective, this study found that in 2016, 2.8 million people died from alcohol-related causes. The highest risks were seen in the age group between 15-49. Of course, these numbers make sense if you realize that over 2 billion folks drink alcohol all around our planet. In addition, those who are younger seem to want to abuse alcohol or have a greater tendency to binge drink…something that frequently has been shown to be quite dangerous!
Again, it’s noteworthy to understand that this study was looking at the effects of alcohol consumption upon large groups of people, so the results were expressed as an estimation of risk of experiencing disease or disability per 100,000 people as a function of alcohol use.
What do these numbers mean to you and I?
The average person consuming one drink per day will experience a .5% increase in risk of experiencing at least one of the 23 health conditions measured in this study over their lifetime. This .5% risk increases by 7% of you drink 2 drinks per day and can climb to 37% higher than the .5% risk at one drink per day if you consume 5 drinks per day.
So…the negative effects of alcohol are realized and can be estimated on a dose-related curve over time. Again….this all makes sense.
What is also important to understand is that this study did not substantiate between different types of beverages containing alcohol. (spirits, wine, beer)
When you look at the research in general regarding the health-effects of consuming alcohol beverages…one thing becomes quite clear.
Drink moderately, do not binge drink and use alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle including health eating and exercise.
The positive health effects of consuming wine are well known and although some of this research is somewhat biased, it becomes important to understand that various alcohol-containing drinks are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, inflammation and fibrin formation. They can also lower LDL, triglycerides and increase HDL. Wine, especially contains strong anti-oxidant chemicals including catechins which have previously been shown to be protective against the development of certain chronic diseases.
So, although this study has some very important information to provide with regard to global population health, the results may not be that transferable to certain individuals who consume certain alcohol-containing beverages responsibly.
Dr. Kevin J. McLaughlin
The Vitality Project