Moderate drinking has been linked to several benefits, but it's too soon to
pour a glass in pursuit of physical wellness.
That was the response of several doctors and alcohol researchers to an
editorial based on a critical analysis of recent studies in the journal
"People have several motives for drinking alcohol, but most evidence today
indicates that health is not a valid argument," author Hans Olav Fekjaer, a
psychiatrist in Oslo, Norway said.
Many studies have found that people who have one or two drinks per day also
have a lowered risk for more than 20 health problems, he wrote, including
coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and the common
Drink in moderation
But that's not enough to recommend using alcohol to stave off those
conditions, Fekjaer said. For one thing, most of the evidence for benefits comes
from observational studies, which find associations between lifestyle choices
and health outcomes but don't prove that one causes the other, according to Dr
Richard Saitz, professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public
Health and editor of the journal Evidence-Based Medicine.
People who drink moderately might live healthier lives in general, Saitz
said. "People who drink low risk amounts are much more likely to get mammograms
and have their teeth checked by a dentist, to go see a physician for a physical,
to exercise," Saitz said.
"We don't think that low amounts of alcohol cause people to go to the
dentist," Saitz said.
"That's just an association."
The existing evidence might reassure those who already drink moderately that
they may be getting some benefit and may not be doing much harm, Saitz said.
But those who do not drink shouldn't pick up a bottle in pursuit of
'With great relief'
Some people have already started, according to Dr Sharonne Hayes of the
Women's Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"It tends to be little old ladies who have a heart attack and they read
somewhere that alcohol is good and they start having a nightcap," Hayes said.
"They hold their nose and drink it, an ounce of brandy before bedtime, they
don't even like it."
"It's with great relief that I tell them they don't need to do that anymore,"
Hayes said. While none advocated the medicinal use of alcohol, some experts
believed Fekjaer was too selective in the examples he used.
"Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Dr Barbara Turner of the
University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and author of a review
on the association between alcohol and cardiovascular health.
"Honestly right now I wouldn't run out and say that (drinking) is the same as
taking Lipitor," a cholesterol drug prescribed to people at risk for stroke or
heart attack, but further study could solidify a causal relationship with heart
disease and perhaps other conditions, Turner said.
"This is such a contentious issue, we do need to push for rigorous controlled
trials," she said. There are some risks from light drinking, like an increased
risk of some cancers, but that is also small, according to Fekjaer.
"As I indicate in Addiction, I would not expect any health benefits from
light or moderate drinking," Fekjaer said.
"So weighing the risks of light drinking against benefits, I would say it is
like weighing almost zero against zero!"