Some articles are still telling us that alcohol (in moderation) can/may be good for you, while others say this has yet to be proven.
Why has it not yet been determined if the possible benefits (specifically for heart health) are related to: the alcohol content of a beverage, the grape tannins or antioxidants from the grapes in wine, just the actual alcohol itself, or the process of making the alcohol?
What is so difficult with this question that it remains unanswered?
The claims regarding the health benefits of alcohol include a laundry list, according to the American Heart Association, alcohol may offer “protective benefits from its antioxidants properties, help increasing HDL, or aid in anti-clogging”. Alcohol has also been linked to possibly helping to prevent diabetes and dementia.
After reading the NY Times article (Alcohol’s Good for You? Some Scientists Doubt It), it became clear why this question remains unanswered, as there seem to be a few fundamental elements missing:
1. The chicken or egg dilemma. Does drinking in moderation promote good health, or do moderate drinkers already practice good health behaviors?
2. Funding Source. Many of the studies on alcohol’s benefits have been funded by the alcohol industry, something I can personally attest to (the University I worked for accepted alcohol industry money to fund our research on the health behaviors of college students). I saw witnessed first-hand that the money did not influence the scientific process, but the results were always slightly “tainted” by critics who could not see passed the funding origin.
3. Lack of "gold standard" study. To date, there has not been a “gold standard” study to casually link (compared to only an association) good health and/or lower morbidity/mortality to the consumption of alcohol.
4. Fundamental difference with comparison groups. Who are the moderate drinkers being compared to in the alcohol studies? Abstainers! As the NY Times article points out: who are these abstainers, and more importantly, why are they abstaining? If moderate drinkers are experiencing better health benefits from drinking, as compared to the abstainers, are the abstainers abstaining from alcohol because there is something that, “makes them more susceptible to heart disease” in the first place?
5. Ethical issues with alcohol' s potential to cause harm to study participants. Critics are suggesting that the “gold standard” studies are unlikely to occur, as there are, “practical and ethical problems in giving alcohol to abstainers” without their knowledge (and, in a double-blind study, some abstainers would receive a placebo; others would receive alcohol).
The idea of people drinking alcohol "for health's sake" may be harmful, as many people may not know if they are at an increased risk of developing alcohol dependence, even before their first sip. A person is at an increased risk for alcohol dependence when they have a family history of alcohol dependence, or they began drinking at an early age. You can read more articles regarding this topic: Women and Alcohol Dependence. How could you not know if you have a family history of alcohol? Some people really may know if Uncle Joe had an alcohol dependence issue, or if he was just a quirky, fun-loving, gregarious fellow; these things are rarely openly discussed at family gatherings in any useful, medical manner.
Until modern science can find a way to ethically, and practically, create strong clinical studies that can move beyond the boundaries of the issues stated above, at least it can be helpful to re-iterate the safer levels of drinking, as an important holiday is coming up for many Americans (July 4th), and is usually associated with drinking.
According to the NIAAA:
“For most adults, moderate alcohol use--up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people--causes few if any problems.”
“One drink” does not equal “one red solo cup”, either! (that is about 1.5 – 2 drinks in the large Solo cup size). One serving of alcohol equals:
- 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler,
- 5-ounce glass of wine,
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
“Certain people should not drink at all, however:
* Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
* People who plan to drive or engage in other activities that require alertness and skill (such as driving a car)
* People taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
* People with medical conditions that can be made worse by drinking
* Recovering alcoholics”
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