Large new study confirms even moderate alcohol use increases risk of death
Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol every day does not protect against death from heart disease, and to the contrary, increases the risk of death, according to a sweeping new study in Canada.
The review, which examined existing research on the health and drinking habits of nearly 5 million people, is one of the largest studies to debunk the widely held belief that moderate drinking of wine or other alcoholic beverages is good for you.
At best, a drink or two each day has no effect good or ill on a person's health, while three or more drinks daily significantly increase the risk of an early death, according to researchers at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
"Low-level or moderate drinking is roughly defined between one drink per week and two drinks per day. That's the amount of alcohol that many studies, if you look at them uncritically, suggest reduces your risk of dying prematurely," said co-researcher Tim Stockwell. He is former director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
For this analysis, Stockwell and his colleagues evaluated 107 studies that assessed the relationship between alcohol use and death. These studies included nearly 5 million participants from multiple countries.
"This is an overview of a lot of really bad studies," Stockwell said. "There's a lot of confounding and bias in these studies, and our analysis illustrates that."
Last year, researchers in Britain examined genetic and medical data of nearly 400,000 people and concluded that even low alcohol intake was associated with increased risk of disease.
The new Canadian study found a slight increased risk of death among those who consumed 25 grams to 44 grams of alcohol daily, around three drinks.
And there was a significantly increased risk of death for people who drank 45 or more grams of alcohol a day, the results showed.
The highest risk was among people who drink 65 grams of alcohol or more a day, or more than four drinks.
The French paradox
The false belief that daily alcohol consumption is good for you dates to the 1980s, when researchers identified the “French paradox” — the suggestion that low rates of cardiovascular disease among men in France was associated with daily wine consumption.
Although later analyses found flaws in the research, the belief that moderate drinking improved health became widely accepted.
Much of the research into the health effects of alcohol has been funded by the alcohol industry. One recent report found that 13,500 studies have been directly or indirectly paid for by the industry.