Can Moderate Drinking Be Beneficial To Your Health?

By Britni de la Cretaz 07/07/17

A new clinical trial aims to uncover whether moderate drinking is good for your cardiovascular health. 

Close-up of beer glass and businessman drinking in the background

Since science can’t seem to agree on whether or not alcohol is beneficial to one's health, a new study is aiming to settle the matter once and for all. Organized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and overseen by the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the $100 million clinical trial will aim to answer the question of whether a drink per day can prevent heart attacks.

However, the New York Times reports that $67.7 million of the funding has been pledged by Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg—companies that are among the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers.

This has some researchers concerned. “Research shows that industry-sponsored research almost invariably favors the interests of the industry sponsor, even when investigators believe they are immune from such influence,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University who is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, told the Times.

George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, is adamant that the study will be non-biased, telling the Times that “the money from the Foundation for the NIH has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever.” However, the Times points out that Koob himself has ties to the alcohol beverage industry, having served on the medical advisory council of the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation—now called the Foundation for Alcohol Research—from 1999 to 2003.

These big-name backers are funding this study because even if they have no impact on the outcome, if the results show that alcohol could be good for you, it would have huge payoffs for the companies. Gemma R. Hart, vice president for communications at Anheuser-Busch, told the Times, “Our role is limited entirely to the funding we provided. We have no role in the study. We will learn the outcome of the study when everybody else does."

But not all research receives this same kind of funding. The Fix reported in 2014 that the NIAAA has a relatively small budget—out of 530 applications the previous year, only 166 were funded for $55,291,978.

“Funding is in a bad situation," Keith Humphreys PhD, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, told The Fix. “The NIH generally funds about 90% of all the world’s addiction research. And the NIH is straining under the fiscal environment.”

However, this alcohol study does have funding, and hopefully will be the final word on the relationship between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular health.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.