A review of 83 scientific studies covering almost 600,000 current alcohol drinkers in 19 higher-income countries shows that men and women who take in as few as six drinks a week (100 grams of alcohol) are at increased risk for death from strokes, heart failure, heart disease and aortic aneurysms, but not heart attacks (The Lancet, April, 2018;391(10129):1513–1523). An editorial in the same issue of Lancet bears the headline, “Thresholds for Safer Alcohol Use Might Need Lowering.”
Another recent study showed that taking two drinks a day is associated with decreased memory because of smaller hippocampal brain size that governs memory, and the more a person drinks, the greater the decrease in brain size (BMJ, June 6, 2017;357:2353). Other studies have shown that:
• Alcohol can damage the heart: People who take in just one drink a day are at increased risk for heart disease (American College of Cardiology, December 5, 2016) and irregular heartbeats, called atrial fibrillation, that cause clots and strokes (J Am Heart Assoc, Sep 14, 2016;5:e004060; Am Coll Cardiol, 2016;68(23):2567-2576).
• Alcohol increases cancer risk: Alcohol is an established risk factor for cancers of the head and neck (Lancet Oncology, 2007;8(4):292-293), esophagus (Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks in Humans, 2012;100(Pt E):373-472), liver (Clinics in Liver Disease, 2012;16(4):839-850), colon (Annals of Oncology, 2011;22(9):1958-1972), and breast (J of the Nat Can Inst, 2009;101(5):296-305). Drinking just one glass of wine a day raises the risk of cancer of the throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast (Addiction, Jul 21, 2016). Alcohol has also been associated with cancers of the skin (Am J Clin Nutr, Nov 2015;102(5):1158-66) and prostate (BMC Cancer, Nov 5, 2016). See Alcohol and Cancer Risk
• Alcohol complicates control of diabetes: By restricting alcohol, diabetics gain better control of their blood sugar levels, HBA1C and insulin (Diabetes Care, 2015;38(9):1804-1812 & 2015;35(4):723-732).
• Alcohol increases risk for osteoporosis: Alcohol is associated with increased risk for hip and vertebral fractures (NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, April 2016).
• Alcohol is associated with liver damage: Drinking alcohol regularly increases risk for permanent liver damage called cirrhosis (Journal of Hepatology, January 26, 2015). Liquor and beer are linked to higher risk for liver damage than wine. The authors of this study warn that older drinkers are more likely to have health conditions affected by alcohol or to take medicines that impair their ability to metabolize alcohol.
Moderate Drinking Does Not Prevent Heart Attacks
An analysis of 45 studies showed that many studies associating moderate alcohol consumption with reduced heart attacks rates are flawed (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, May 2017;78(3):394-403). To claim that moderate drinking is associated with heart attack prevention, researchers have tried to show that non-drinkers have more heart attacks than moderate drinkers. The problem is that the group of non-drinkers includes a very high number of sick people who had been told to stop drinking (alcoholics, people with liver, heart, lung or kidney disease or diabetes, and so forth). Once the studies had been corrected to remove these people from the group of non-drinkers, these studies no longer showed that the drinkers had fewer heart attacks. Another study, from England, followed 53,000 men and women over 50 for 6-10 years and found that alcohol consumption had no demonstrable health benefit and did not reduce risk of death during the study period (British Medical Journal, February 10, 2015).
Many people have the mistaken belief that it is safe and even beneficial for women to take up to one drink per day and for men to take up to two drinks per day. Almost 30 percent of North Americans drink more than that. The studies I have listed in this article and many more suggest that no amount of alcohol is beneficial. Whatever decision you make about your own consumption of alcohol, do not base it on bad information promoted by the alcoholic beverage industry.
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