New Study Says Previous Research Touting Benefits of Drinking Flawed

By McCarton Ackerman 02/20/15

Researchers have once again cast doubt into the health benefits of drinking.

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In the ongoing flip-flop of studies either lauding or disparaging the benefits of drinking, a new research project from the UK has declared that there are no health benefits associated with alcohol consumption and also that previous research on the subject was flawed.

Scientists at University College London concluded that studies, which suggested that a glass of wine is good for the heart, as well as declaring that moderate drinkers are healthier, have relied on flawed comparisons by comparing drinkers with people who had to give up alcohol because they were already sick. They also advocated for women to not drink during the first three months of pregnancy or even while planning to conceive.

“It is impossible to say what constitutes as a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol a mother can drink as every pregnancy is different,” said Simon Newell, of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health. “Our advice to mothers is don’t take a chance with your baby’s health and drink no alcohol at all.”

Lead researcher Craig Knott had his team analyze data on 18,000 people, 4,100 of whom had died over a 10-year period. They noted that while middle-aged men who drank 15-20 units of alcohol per week and women who drank less than 10 units had a lower risk of dying early, other factors not related to drinking were the primary cause of this. However, several medical experts have slammed the study as statistically sloppy and too small in scope to make such broad claims.

“The authors’ conclusions are not backed up by the data,” said David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge. “All groups consuming less than 20 units a week experienced lower mortality rates than the lifelong teetotallers. But since there are not many teetotallers, there is large uncertainty about what the true underlying relative risks are. All the observed data are compatible with the kind of 15 to 20% protection that has been previously suggested.”

Of course, numerous other studies have touted the benefits of drinking, including lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, preventing diabetes and keeping dementia at bay.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.