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No Amount Of Alcohol Is Good For Your Health, Global Study Says

A new global study published in The Lancet says that no amount of alcohol is good for your overall health. Peter Forest/Getty Images for Starz hide caption

toggle caption Peter Forest/Getty Images for Starz

A new global study published in The Lancet says that no amount of alcohol is good for your overall health.

Peter Forest/Getty Images for Starz

Countless scientific studies have espoused the idea that a glass of red wine a day can be good for the heart, but a new, sweeping global study published in The Lancet on Friday rejects the notion that any drinking can be healthy.

No amount of alcohol is safe, according to The Global Burden of Diseases study, which analyzed levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016.

While the study’s authors say that moderate drinking may safeguard people against heart disease, they found that the potential to develop cancer and other diseases offsets these potential benefits, as do other risks of harm. The report urges governments to revise health guidelines to suggest lower levels of consumption.

“Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none,” the report states. “This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day.”

The study looked at a broad range of risks posed by alcohol consumption, including diseases, driving accidents and self-harm. According to the report, alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for disease worldwide, the study found, accounting for almost 10 percent of deaths among those ages 15 to 49.

For younger people, the three leading causes of death linked to alcohol use were tuberculosis, road injuries and self-harm, according to the study. Drinking alcohol was also a leading cause of cancer for people older than 50.

Despite the study’s uncompromising message, some critics say its conclusions may be overblown. Claiming there is no safe level of alcohol consumption is not a compelling argument for people to stop drinking altogether, says David Spiegelhalter, the Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge

“There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving,” Spiegelhalter told the BBC. “Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”

In the U.S., social acceptance of alcohol is at a high point. Some states have liberalized their drinking laws. For instance, New York passed a law in 2016 to allow restaurants to sell alcohol earlier on Sundays. And Georgia this year passed what was dubbed the “mimosa mandate.”

This may send a message that alcohol consumption is OK, experts say, but they warn that about 5 percent of cancers are linked to alcohol. The American Cancer Society of Clinical Oncology, a group of cancer doctors, has been working to raise awareness about the risks of excessive drinking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends women limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day and men two drinks per day, but it’s easy to unknowingly go over these limits. A drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer that contains 5 percent alcohol, or one shot of liquor, though many mixed drinks contain more than one shot and some craft beers contain higher levels of alcohol.

The study found that worldwide, about 1 in 3 people drink alcohol and that 25 percent of women and 39 percent of men are drinkers. Women consume an average of 0.73 drinks per day, while men drink about 1.7 each day. The study also finds what lots of prior research has shown: The more people drink, the higher their risk of alcohol-related health problems.

At the same time, many cancer doctors acknowledge that moderate alcohol consumption may be safe, says Noelle LoConte, an oncologist and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin.

“We’re not proponents of complete abstinence. There probably is an amount of drinking that’s OK,” LoConte told NPR in June. “But from a cancer-prevention standpoint, drinking the least amount of alcohol possible would be the best strategy.”

In what quickly became the world’s most widely circulated science story, a report last week in the Lancet claimed that “the safest level of drinking is none.” Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the wide-ranging study criticized government health boards who merely advocate moderate drinking, writing that they should “consider recommendations for abstention.”

It’s sobering stuff, but before you start pursuing Prohibition II, here are some reasons why that Lancet story may not be the final word on happy hour.

The risks of moderate alcohol consumption cited in the Lancet study are incredibly low

According to the study, if you gather together 100,000 teetotalers, in a single year 914 of them can be expected to develop breast cancer, liver cancer or one of the other 23 health problems known to be brought on by alcohol use. But if you gather together 100,000 people who only consume one drink a day, 918 of them will come down with those same health problems. Final result? Consuming one drink a day will cause four of every 100,000 people to get sick. That’s an incredibly low risk factor. It means that if you’re a moderate drinker, your health would be far better served by buying a fire extinguisher or a bike helmet than by quitting the sauce. In an extended critique of the Lancet study, British statistician David Spiegelhalter calculated that, on average, it would take an incredible 400,000 bottles of gin to prompt a single extra health problem among moderates drinkers. With these kinds of numbers, Spiegelhalter was particularly critical of the study’s conclusion that public health agencies should “consider recommendations for abstention.” Wrote Spiegelhalter, “there is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving. Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.” 400,000 bottles of gin is roughly 1,000 bathtubs’ worth. File

… and they may not necessarily be due to alcohol
The new Lancet study doesn’t have any new data. It’s a “meta-analysis” of nearly 700 published studies from around the world. As such, it’s a very accurate measure of the fact that drinkers, on average, are less healthy and die earlier. But in a column for the New York Times, pediatrician and health researcher Aaron Carroll wrote that with a pool of data that large, the study is unable to control for “unmeasured” factors that might also be causing drinkers to get disproportionately sick. Drinkers might be poorer or more depressed, among other factors. Given this, Carrolll had sharp criticism for the study correlating any amount of alcohol with poor health. “I am sure that I could create a chart showing increasing risk for many diseases from 0 to 15 desserts,” he wrote. “This could lead to assertions that “there’s no safe amount of dessert. But it doesn’t mean you should never, ever eat dessert.”

Norm is making many other unhealthy life choices in addition to hanging out in a bar all the time. Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

A recent Lancet study came to very different conclusions
It got way less press, but only five months ago another wide-ranging alcohol study was published in the Lancet. This one also used massive datasets to determine the link between drinking and poor health. The study is no fan of alcohol, an accompanying press release advised people that if they “already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer.” The reason they included the “already drink alcohol” caveat is because when researchers broke open the data for “non-drinkers” they found that teetotalers were at way higher risk for death and sickness than their moderate-drinking peers. This doesn’t mean that alcohol is medicine, since the non-drinkers may be in that category because of some serious pre-existing condition. But it does pour water on the claim that non-drinkers are some magically healthy subset of the population (or that non-drinking is foolproof indicator of good health). Ultimately, the study stopped short of recommending abstention, and instead suggested keeping alcohol consumption below 100 grams per week. In Canada, this is equivalent to roughly eight drinks.

Table from the April paper ‘Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption.’ Here, both ex-drinkers and non-drinkers are shown to have significantly higher rates of disease and mortality as compared to moderate drinkers. The Lancet

Just to be clear, heavy drinking is obviously bad
After years of steadily climbing upwards, life expectancy in the United States has been dropping in recent years, prompting health researchers to blame the trio of alcohol, suicide and drugs. In 2012 alone, 3.3 million people around the world died due to “harmful” consumption of alcohol, according to the World Health Organization. In Russia, so many men died of alcohol-related causes starting in the 1980s that the country has a recognized demographic of women unable to find husbands. Alcohol abusers get cancer more often, they destroy their organs and they injure themselves more often. In Canada, impaired driving remains the leading cause of criminal death. Roll all of this together and it is an extremely mainstream medical opinion that heavy drinking is always bad.

And no doctor is going to suggest you drink more
There is some correlation between light drinking and certain health outcomes. Even the new Lancet study wrote that light drinking may help to reduce ischaemic heart disease and diabetes among women — but maintained that the overall risks far outweigh the benefits. Regardless, here’s something that never happens: A woman walks into a doctor’s office and is immediately asked if she’s getting enough vodka. While alcohol used to be a staple medical prescription well into the 20th century, modern doctors are generally in agreement that it has no medicinal quality whatsoever. There are only two very specific exceptions: If someone is rolled into an Emergency Room with methanol poisoning, a doctor will prescribe an IV of alcohol to counteract the effects of the poison (resulting in an alive, but very drunk, patient). Or, if someone is already a severe alcoholic, a doctor may prescribe safe amounts of alcohol to help with withdrawal symptoms. The point is: If you’re a teetotaler, the medical community has no quarrel with your drinking choices. Most medical debates about alcohol are whether it’s measurably dangerous in small doses, not whether it should be part of a balanced diet.

Can someone please explain to me how a figure that shows that at one drink per day you have a relative risk of 1 can lead to the conclusion that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption? pic.twitter.com/eufOsKvTC9

— Aaron E. Carroll (@aaronecarroll) August 24, 2018

For what it’s worth, old people tend to be healthy lushes
People blessed with extreme longevity are often medical anomalies, and should not be used as guides to proper public health policy. For instance, the oldest man in the United States, 112-year-old Richard Overton, pursues the extremely inadvisable habit of smoking up to 18 cigars per day. But it’s worth noting that an awful lot of very old people have lived lives replete with moderate alcohol consumption. A particularly illuminating 2007 study followed a group of 14,000 seniors for 23 years, at the end of which most had died. Incredibly, the drinkers fared way better than the teetotalers. “Stable drinkers … had a significantly decreased risk of death compared with stable non-drinkers,” it concluded. A 2008 study, meanwhile, found that people older than 50 who drink were less likely to develop disabilities as they grew older. This should not be taken of evidence that alcohol is a health tonic, only that for select demographics it’s not necessarily a barrier to a long and healthy life. The same definitely can’t be said of other drugs such as heroin or tobacco (with the notable exception of Overton, of course). The studies also illustrate a major problem with any research on alcohol health: People may drink moderately because they already live relatively healthy and balanced lifestyles, not the other way around. Either way, it’s good news for Queen Elizabeth II, who is well on her way to becoming European history’s first centenarian monarch while pounding through four cocktails a day.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets his possibly buzzed Head of State. Matt Dunham/Getty Images

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No alcohol safe to drink, global study confirms

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Just one drink a day leads to health risks

Bad news for those who enjoy what they think is a healthy glass of wine a day.

A large new global study published in the Lancet has confirmed previous research which has shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

The researchers admit moderate drinking may protect against heart disease but found that the risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs these protections.

A study author said its findings were the most significant to date because of the range of factors considered.

How risky is moderate drinking?

The Global Burden of Disease study looked at levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries, including the UK, between 1990 and 2016.

Analysing data from 15 to 95-year-olds, the researchers compared people who did not drink at all with those who had one alcoholic drink a day.

They found that out of 100,000 non-drinkers, 914 would develop an alcohol-related health problem such as cancer or suffer an injury.

But an extra four people would be affected if they drank one alcoholic drink a day.

For people who had two alcoholic drinks a day, 63 more developed a condition within a year and for those who consumed five drinks every day, there was an increase of 338 people, who developed a health problem.

One of the study authors, Prof Sonia Saxena, a researcher at Imperial College London and a practising GP, said: “One drink a day does represent a small increased risk, but adjust that to the UK population as a whole and it represents a far bigger number, and most people are not drinking just one drink a day.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A glass of red wine a day is not healthy, say researchers

The lead author of the study Dr Max Griswold, at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington, said: “Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increases with any amount of alcohol.

“The strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for heart disease in our study.

“Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.”

  • Booze calculator: What’s your drinking nationality?
  • Alcohol limits cut to reduce risks
  • Does moderate drinking prevent dementia?
  • Six charts on how the British drink

In 2016, the government cut the levels of alcohol it recommends for men and women to no more than 14 units a week – equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine.

At the time, England’s chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, noted that any amount of alcohol could increase the risk of cancer.

‘Informed risk’

Prof Saxena said the study was the most important study ever conducted on the subject.

She explained: “This study goes further than others by considering a number of factors including alcohol sales, self-reported data on the amount of alcohol drunk, abstinence, tourism data and the levels of illicit trade and home brewing.”

The study shows that British women drink an average of three drinks a day, and rank eighth in the world of highest drinkers.

British men by contrast, ranked 62nd out of the 195 countries surveyed, even though they also drink on average three alcoholic drinks a day. This is because the drinking levels were far higher generally among men, with Romanian men drinking more than eight drinks daily.

A drink was defined as 10g of alcohol, which equates to a small glass of wine, a can or bottle of beer, or a shot of spirits. In the UK one unit is 8g of alcohol. Around the world, one in three people are thought to drink alcohol and it is linked to nearly a tenth of all deaths in those aged 15 to 49.

Prof Saxena said: “Most of us in the UK drink well in excess of safe limits, and as this study shows there is no safe limit. The recommendations need to come down further and the government needs to rethink its policy. If you are going to drink, educate yourself about the risks, and take an informed risk.”

How many units of alcohol are in each drink?

  • Large glass of wine – 3 units
  • Pint of higher-strength lager or beer – 3 units
  • Standard glass of wine – 2 units
  • Pint of lower-strength lager or beer – 2 units
  • Bottle of lager or beer – 1.7 units
  • Single shot of spirits – 1 unit

Source: NHS Choices

Yet Prof David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, sounded a note of caution about the findings.

“Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention,” he said.

“There is no safe level of driving, but the government does not recommend that people avoid driving.

“Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”

Getting wasted every weekend might not be the best thing for your physical or mental well-being, but moderate alcohol consumption may have some substantial health benefits. It should be noted that alcohol consumption and its benefits vary based on an individual’s body makeup and type.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days.”

Now, we’ve all heard the reasons why alcohol is bad for you, but what about the benefits? Here is our list of seven ways that drinking alcohol in moderation (when you’re of the legal drinking age of course) might benefit your health.

1. It Can Lower Your Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease

The School of Public Health at Harvard University found that “moderate amounts of alcohol raises levels of high-density lipoprotein, HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol and higher HDL levels are associated with greater protection against heart disease. Moderate alcohol consumption has also been linked with beneficial changes ranging from better sensitivity to insulin to improvements in factors that influence blood clotting….Such changes would tend to prevent the formation of small blood clots that can block arteries in the heart, neck, and brain, the ultimate cause of many heart attacks and the most common kind of stroke.” This finding is applicable to both men and women who have not been previously diagnosed with any type of cardiovascular disease.

2. It Can Lengthen Your Life

Drinking occasionally could add a few years to your life. A study by the Catholic University of Campobasso reported that drinking less than four or two drinks per day for men and women respectively could reduce the risk of death by 18 percent, as reported by Reuters. “Little amounts, preferably during meals, this appears to be the right way (to drink alcohol),” said Dr. Giovanni de Gaetano of Catholic University, another author on the study. “This is another feature of the Mediterranean diet, where alcohol, wine above all, is the ideal partner of a dinner or lunch, but that’s all: the rest of the day must be absolutely alcohol-free.”

3. It Can Improve Your Libido

Contrary to prior beliefs, newer research has found that moderate drinking might actually protect against erectile dysfunction in the same way that drinking red wine might benefit heart disease. In a 2009 study published in the, Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found that the chances of erectile dysfunction were reduced by 25 to 30 percent among alcohol drinkers. The lead researcher, Kew-Kim Chew, an epidemiologist at the University of West Australia, conducted the study with 1,770 Australian men. In his study, Chew cautiously noted that he and his team in no way are advising men to hit the bottle, and that further research is needed to accurately connect impotence and alcohol consumption.

4. It Helps Prevent Against the Common Cold

The Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University found that while susceptibility to the common cold was increased by smoking, moderate alcohol consumption led to a decrease in common cold cases for nonsmokers. This study was conducted in 1993 with 391 adults. In 2002, according to the New York Times, Spanish researchers found that by drinking eight to 14 glasses of wine per week, particularly red wine, one could see a 60-percent reduction in the risk of developing a cold. The scientists suspected that this had something to do with the antioxidant properties of wine.

5. It Can Decrease Chances Of Developing Dementia

In a study that included more than 365,000 participants since 1977, as reported in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. “Small amounts of alcohol might, in effect, make brain cells more fit. Alcohol in moderate amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major stresses down the road that could cause dementia,” said Edward J. Neafsey, Ph.D., co-author of the study, as reported by Science Daily. “We don’t recommend that nondrinkers start drinking,” Neafsey said. “But moderate drinking — if it is truly moderate — can be beneficial.”

6. It Can Reduce The Risk Of Gallstones

Drinking two units of alcohol per day can reduce the risk of gallstones by one-third, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia. The study found that those who reported consuming two UK units of alcohol per day had a one-third reduction in their risk of developing gallstones. “Researchers emphasized that their findings show the benefits of moderate alcohol intake but stress that excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems,” according to the study.

7. Lowers The Chance Of Diabetes

Results of a Dutch study showed that healthy adults who drink one to two glasses per day have a decreased chance of developing type 2 diabetes, in comparison to those who don’t drink at all. “The results of the investigation show that moderate alcohol consumption can play a part in a healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes type 2,” researchers said in a statement to Reuters.

23 Surprising, Healthy Benefits of Alcohol

You’ve heard over and over just how much of a downer drinking liquor can be for your health, weight loss, and attitude. But some studies have also shown that boozing on occasion has some perks. And we agree—as you keep your imbibing under control and sipping in moderation, you might just notice some benefits of alcohol!

So, this isn’t a green light to down six beers or taste test every cocktail on the menu during your next company happy hour. But it’s kinda nice to know that you can hit the bar and a enjoy a drink or two for the sake of your well-being. Check out our Eat This, Not That! guide for drinkers, check out the below benefits, and then bottoms up!

Category 1: Wine

UB40 knew what they were talking about when they sang, “Red, red wine, you make me feel so fine.” Turns out a bottle of red can help with heart disease, immunity, and more.

1

Red Wine Can Actually Burn Fat

It’s true: A glass of red could help you with your weight loss efforts. A study from Oregon State University revealed that the dark red grapes found in some types of red wine can help people manage obesity and a metabolic fatty liver, due to a chemical called ellagic acid. This chemical slows down the growth of fat cells and stops new ones from being created, which boosts the metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells.

2

Alcohol Can Help Fight Colds

We’re not giving the okay to drink during a cold, but getting in the habit of drinking moderately can help prevent one. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the antioxidants in red wine can help you reduce your risk of a cold by a shocking 60 percent.

3

Red Wine is Beneficial to Your Heart

We already know that wine is great for heart health, but a Rhode Island Hospital study that compared pinot noir to vodka found that red wins. Researchers fed vodka and wine to two out of three groups of pigs along with a high-fat diet for seven weeks. And while both groups that had vodka and wine both saw cardiovascular benefits, pinot noir’s antioxidants, high resveratrol content, and pro-angiogenic and anti-inflammatory properties made the alcoholic beverage the winner in this study.

4

Drinking Moderately Can Improve Sexual Function in Men

Scientists from the University of Western Australia found that wine drinkers experienced lower rates of erectile dysfunction than those who don’t drink. And the lower rate was significant, too: 25-30 percent! What’s the reason you ask? Well, the heart-healthy antioxidants present in wine may deserve all the credit.

5

And for Women, It Offers Libido-Boosting Powers

Women who drank one to two glasses of vino had heightened sexual desire, compared to ladies who didn’t down any vino, a Journal of Sexual Medicine study found. What makes the elixir so beneficial is a rich antioxidant profile that triggers nitric oxide production in the blood, which relaxes artery walls. This increases blood flow down south, creating feelings of sexual excitement.

6

Red Wine Can Boost Your Memory

Ever notice how wine nights with your friends always end with a trip down memory lane? Well, this study could shed some light on that scenario. A 2015 study by Texas A&M University found resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of red grapes, can improve memory and cognitive function in rats. So, next time you accidentally bring up an embarrassing story of one of your friends, just blame it on the alcohol.

7

Wine Can Make You Live Longer

If you look forward to that glass of wine or two every evening, there’s no need to give up the habit. A Genes & Nutrition study found that resveratrol in wine can help induce the expression of several longevity genes that regulate cell survival.

8

Vino Can Boost Your Vaccine’s Effects

Ordering a glass of wine with your meal can work in your favor during cold and flu season. A study published in Vaccine suggests that drinking wine with dinner a few times a week can help enhance the effects of vaccines. Researchers gave 12 monkeys smallpox vaccines, then gave them access to either 4 percent ethanol or sugar water with the same amount of calories (the control group). They tracked the monkeys’ alcohol consumption for 14 months, vaccinating them again after the first seven months. Although the monkeys all responded to the first vaccine similarly, the moderate drinkers of the test group saw increased vaccine response than both the non-drinkers and heavy drinkers after the second.

9

White Wine Is Weight-Loss Friendly

It seems that red wine gets all the credit for being healthy, but fear not white wine lovers; there’s been previous evidence that supports white wine as the better option for weight loss. A study in the Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research journal found that white wine’s phenols have a higher antioxidant count than the ones found in red. These wines for weight loss are both waist-friendly and wallet-friendly.

10

A Glass of Cabernet Could Enhance Your Workout

Or any type of red wine for that matter. Research published in the Journal of Physiology found that the resveratrol found in most red wines can enhance exercise performance, improve muscle strength and heart function—all benefits similar to endurance training.

Category 2: Beer

With its high calories and reputation as “liquid carbs,” beer seems to be anything but a healthy option at the bar. (Can you say beer belly?) But, research proves that an ice cold brew can do wonders for the body. Just a rule of thumb: just as you would go redder with wine, go darker with beer to reap the benefits (more on that later). Find out why we’re saying cheers to beer!

11

Beer Has Vitamins

Whether you’re a fan of Bud Light or Guinness, beer is packed with B vitamins riboflavin and thiamin, plus high levels of magnesium, and calcium. But dark beers do have a slight advantage of being the better brew thanks to their high iron content, which helps oxygen circulate around the body better. Find out where your favorite brew stands in our guide on the best & worst beers for weight loss.

12

Beer Can Help You Recover Faster Post-Workout

Yep, there is some truth behind the whole post-marathon beer thing! A Spanish study suggests that an ice cold beer can hydrate you just as well as water, making it perfectly ok to grab happy hour after an intense sweat session.

13

Beer Helps Protect the Brain

Cheers for beer! In 2015, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported that a compound found in beer called xanthohumol could protect brain cells from damage, thus slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

14

Beer Can Strengthen Your Bones

Beer’s high silicon content is what’s responsible for an increase in bone density, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Moderate beer drinkers who consume 1-2 glasses a day are more likely to have that effect, but surprisingly, it’s women who reap the most benefits. The study reported that postmenopausal women who had two drinks per day saw their bone density increase up to 8.3 percent! Now, that’s a great excuse to hit the bar after work.

15

Beer Can Alleviate Menopause Symptoms

Another reason why beer should be a girl’s best friend? A study in the Journal of Endocrinology suggests that the chemicals in the beer may act as phytoestrogens, which can help diminish hot flashes and lessen other menopause symptoms. That study is quite a bit dated, but it’s worth a shot—er, a pint—if you ask us.

16

Beer Lowers Heart Attack Risks in Women

The accolades for the cold brew just keep on comin’. A Swedish study that was 32 years in the making confirmed that women who drink 1-2 brewskis per week have a 30 percent lower risk of a heart attack than those who drank heavily or none at all. And for you lovely ladies, we also have healthy foods for women to make a part of your diet.

17

Beer Helps Your Kidneys

A study from the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology found that beer can help you reduce the risk of kidney stones by 30 percent.

18

Beer Can Reduce Diabetes Risk

Research suggests that people who drink in moderation are 40 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who drank too much or none at all. But just a reminder: the magic number here is one or two. Any more, and you’ll bump that risk up instead.

Category 3: Liquor and Other Spirits

If you’re one who prefers the harder stuff, then you’re in luck! While gin, tequila, and other spirits are known to be stronger in alcohol, sipping on these liquors can help with weight loss, diseases, and even a sore throat. So, what do we have to say to that? Saluté!

19

Like Wine, Vodka Is Also Heart-Friendly

As mentioned before, vodka can improve blood circulation, but the study above mentions that it helps the heart differently from vino. Vodka helps more collateral vessels to develop, which helps connect the heart to the lungs.

20

Tequila Can Help You Lose Weight

Sounds crazy, but we have the science to prove it. An American Chemical Society study suggests that the agavins (natural sugar) found in this Mexican liquor are better than artificial sweeteners at helping you shed the pounds. After scientists had given a group of mice agavins into their water, they reported that the mice had lower glucose levels and were fuller longer. So, next time someone offers you a tequila shot, go for it! Just stick to one, though. (We don’t mean to be a broken record, but it’s worth the echo!)

21

Cranberry and Vodka Can Boost Your Creativity

Next time you’re stumped at a project, grab a cocktail. Cranberry and vodka can help get your creative juices flowing according to a study from Consciousness and Cognition. Researchers gave a group of men cranberry and vodka until their blood alcohol content reached 0.75 percent while the other group stayed sober and then asked them to complete a verbal puzzle while watching a movie. The men who boozed won the game! They solved the puzzle in 11.5 seconds while the teetotalers finished in 15.2 seconds.

22

Alcohol Can Soothe Sore Muscles

Whether your choice of beverage is wine or bourbon, it can help soothe your muscles, according to a study published in the International Journal of Kinesiology & Sports Science. The study had male participants go through two rounds of exercise and then consume a small amount of an alcoholic beverage or placebo beverage. The results concluded that those who drank the booze reported less muscle soreness after recovery than those who consumed a placebo.

23

Whisky Can Help a Sore Throat

While wine can reportedly help prevent a cold, this quick fix might help if one still strikes you down. To reap the benefits of alcohol during chillier months, mix whisky with warm water and honey, and you’ll find temporary relief to a sore throat. Like this DIY treatment? There here are 20 natural cures from your kitchen.

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A New Study Claims Even Moderate Amounts of Alcohol Are Bad for Your Health

Photo: Olha Tsiplyar /

Remember those studies that found red wine was actually good for you? Turns out the research was as too-good-to-be-true as it sounded (a three-year investigation concluded that the research was BS-damn). Still, most health experts have maintained that up to one drink a day is a-okay for your health, and might even have health-protective effects. But a new study delivered a sobering finding, stating that no amount of alcohol is good for you. What gives?

The study, published this month in The Lancet, examined drinking on a global level, exploring how boozing around the world contributes to specific diseases-think cancer, heart disease, tuberculosis, diabetes-as well as overall risk of death. The amount of data researchers looked at was massive-they reviewed over 600 studies on how drinking impacts health.

You may not want to toast to their findings. According to the report, alcohol was one of the top 10 risk factors for premature death in 2016, accounting for just over 2 percent of all reported deaths among women that year. On top of that, they also found that any so-called health benefits of alcohol are BS. “Their conclusion is essentially that the safest amount of alcohol is none,” says Aaron White, Ph.D., a senior scientific advisor at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), who was not involved with the study.

The thing is, experts are divided on how the findings should be interpreted, and most agree that the final word on alcohol isn’t so black and white. Here’s what experts want you to know about the research and what it means for your happy hour plans.

The Case for Alcohol

“The strongest evidence for the health benefits of alcohol are in reducing the risk of heart attack,” says White. There’s a convincing body of research that’s found moderate drinking-aka one drink per day for women-might be good for your cardiovascular health, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. (Read more: The Definitive *Truth* About Wine and Its Health Benefits)

Before you pop the bubbly, the experts stress this research isn’t exactly a reason to *start* drinking if you don’t already. “If you’re already living a healthy lifestyle, there’s no need to add alcohol to benefit your heart,” White explains. “I would never recommend that somebody start drinking for their health.”

However, based on the research that’s currently out there, up to one drink a day is most likely safe and might even be a little beneficial for your heart.

The Case for Going Dry

At the same time, research also shows there’s a tradeoff. “Even if alcohol might have some heart health benefits, there’s evidence that, especially for women, alcohol can increase your risk of cancers,” says White. According to research published by the American Institute of Cancer Research, one small drink a day can up your risk of breast cancer by up to 9 percent.

And there’s no getting around the fact that drinking at higher levels can tank your health. Binge drinking-that means four drinks or more during your night out-is associated with all kinds of health risks, which is not up for debate, according to the experts. “We’ve always known that alcohol can kill you,” says White. Regularly binge drinking will put your risk of cancer and all kinds of other health problems “through the roof,” he says. (Related: What Young Women Need to Know About Alcoholism)

The Debate

The challenge for NIAAA and other health organizations lies in “figuring out where the threshold is between alcohol being dangerous and being neutral or even potentially beneficial,” explains White. The new study doesn’t mean that your happy hour beer is going to kill you, he stresses. “It just means that there might not be a level at which alcohol is protective.”

Adding to the confusion is that the findings of the new study might be a little misleading. “The new paper looks at studies worldwide, which is not necessarily indicative of the risk in the U.S., as the burden of disease is quite different here than India, for example,” explains Julie Devinsky, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Hospital. The study also looks at entire populations-not individual habits and health risks, adds White. Together, that means one thing: The results are more of a generalization than a personal health recommendation.

The Bottom Line on Booze

While the recent study was impressive and the results worth paying attention to, ultimately, this is just one study among many on the health effects of alcohol, says White. “It’s a complicated topic,” he says. “There’s no need to panic here if you’re drinking moderately, but it’s important to pay attention to the new science as it comes out.”

Currently, NIAAA (along with the official U.S. Dietary Guidelines) recommend up to one drink per day for women. If you’re intentional about being healthy-crushing your workout calendar, eating a healthy diet, and staying on top of any genetic risks by getting the appropriate screenings-a nightly glass of pinot noir is “statistically very unlikely” to screw up your health game, says White.

Still, “it’s important to understand that one drink per day is not the same as having seven drinks on Friday night,” says Michael Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. That falls into binge territory, which, as we’ve established, is a no-go, no matter which study you look at. (Related: Shaun T Gave Up Alcohol and Is More Focused Than Ever)

White notes that the NIAAA is evaluating its alcohol recommendation as new data comes in. “We’re reevaluating whether moderate consumption is really safe, or whether even at low levels of drinking, the potential harm outweighs the benefits or even lack of effect,” he explains.

Before you pour yourself a class, Dr. Roizen advises considering your individual risk by asking yourself three questions. “First, are you at risk of alcohol or drug abuse based on family history? If the answer is yes, then it’s zero on the alcohol,” he says. If the answer is no, next consider your risk of cancer. “If you are at a high risk of cancer, meaning you have female relatives that have had cancer, especially at a younger age, then the answer is that alcohol is probably not going to have any benefits for you,” he says. But if your personal and family history is free of alcohol abuse and cancer, “go ahead and enjoy up to one drink per night,” says Dr. Roizen.

White recommends talking to your doctor about it-after all, getting a personalized recommendation from your doc is always better than trying to decipher global data. “The bottom line is that you don’t need alcohol to live a long and healthy life,” he says. “The current question is, ‘Is it still safe or even relatively beneficial to have small amounts of alcohol every day?’ We just don’t know that yet.”

  • By Macaela Mackenzie @MacaelaMackenzi

Are There Benefits to Drinking Alcohol?

Understanding how alcohol affects your health

November 21, 2018 Karen A. Jamrog,

Illustration by Gloria Diianni

You might have heard the hype — and the conflicting reports — about the health benefits of alcohol. With party season upon us, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the risks and possible advantages of consuming alcoholic beverages.

It might surprise you to know that, for many individuals, drinking alcohol can in fact help promote good health. Experts agree, however, that drinking in excess is never a good idea, and despite alcohol’s potential benefits, teetotalers should not feel compelled to change their drinking habits. “We don’t recommend on an individual basis or a population basis” that abstainers start drinking, says Jonathan Eddinger, MD, FACC, a cardiologist-lipidologist at Catholic Medical Center’s New England Heart and Vascular Institute in Manchester. People with certain conditions, such as pregnant women and individuals who have a personal or family history of alcoholism, should be especially careful to avoid drinking alcohol.

Those who can safely imbibe should weigh alcohol’s potential risks with the benefits it can provide, particularly for the heart. “There is definitely a strong association between alcohol intake and cardiovascular mortality,” Eddinger says. Not all types of heart disease are equally influenced by alcohol, Eddinger says, but compared to abstainers, those who drink moderately — that’s no more than one drink per day for women or two for men — have a lower risk of a heart attack, possibly in part due to their tendency to have higher levels of HDL, the “good” type of cholesterol.

When it comes to alcohol, more is definitely not better, though; the moderation rule of one to two drinks per day seems to be the sweet spot, with amounts beyond that corresponding with a rise in various ailments and death. “As you drink more alcohol, the risk for high blood pressure starts to increase,” Eddinger says. “And the biggest risk to drinkers as they imbibe more is for stroke. This is probably partly explained by high blood pressure driving stroke risk, but it is not as simple as that.”

As studies have explored the good that alcohol can do for the body, much attention has focused on resveratrol, a compound that comes from grape skins and is plentiful in red wine. It’s true that resveratrol “has some really nice effects,” Eddinger says, given its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help keep blood vessels healthy.

But most research suggests that resveratrol alone is not the key to the puzzle of how alcohol benefits health. For example, studies show that drinking nonalcoholic wine does not provide the same health advantages as consuming wine that contains alcohol. Plus, beer and spirits seem to have the same healthful effects as wine. “The bulk of the data seems to suggest that it’s any type of alcohol,” Eddinger says. “There’s something about the alcohol itself it seems, and not just the resveratrol.”

Research that probes the good and bad of alcohol consumption is complicated by a number of factors, including a reliance on self-reported data: People are not always honest about their drinking habits, and not everyone is aware of how their typical drink stacks up against recommended serving sizes. (A serving of wine, for example, should be only 5 ounces.) Lifestyle is also difficult to properly track, and it’s possible that people who, say, drink cocktails rather than beer or wine tend to have other habits that influence their health. And maybe patterns of alcohol use — the time of day people drink, for example, and whether they consistently drink in moderation or not — skew research results.

The bottom line is that moderate intake of alcohol appears to be beneficial, but it isn’t entirely clear whether the health benefits are derived solely from drinking alcohol, or are influenced by lifestyle choices that accompany the drinking.

But for sure, moderation plays a significant role. For people who have no complicating conditions, drinking the recommended amounts of alcohol lowers the risk of dying from a heart attack, but if alcohol intake exceeds recommended levels, Eddinger says, the likelihood of high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and death from non-heart attack related issues rises. So, before you raise a glass, consider alcohol’s risks as well as its benefits.

Cheers to Moderation

Drinking alcohol in moderation can be good for cardiovascular health, but before you break out the bubbly, keep in mind that “moderation” means one drink per day for women and two for men. Serving size counts, too, with recommended amounts coming in at 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

And don’t forget that the calories in alcoholic beverages can quickly add up, says Eileen Behan, RDN, a dietitian at Core Physicians. A glass of wine can boost your caloric tally for the day by about 120 calories, while a beer might cost you 150 calories and a shot of alcohol about 100. If you enjoy mixed drinks, which typically include some type of sweetener, the final calorie count will be significantly higher.

Those who want to skip the alcohol but still reap the health perks of resveratrol, a much-publicized compound that is plentiful in red wine, can take in resveratrol’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects by munching on blueberries, cranberries or peanuts.

Alas, no one should expect that simply drinking moderately or eating berries is the key to all things health-related. Instead, consider “the whole package,” Behan says. “Are you smoking? Are you getting exercise?” Your overall lifestyle and daily habits are what matter most.

Categories: Health & Wellness

Drinking Alcohol And Benefits

Over the last five years, the health benefits of moderate drinking have been widely celebrated in the headlines. To those who think everything enjoyable must be bad for you, this news might seem like a dream come true.

Of course, there are many caveats – and these studies don’t indicate that teetotalers should take up drinking or that infrequent drinkers should start drinking more. The operative word here is drinking in moderation.

Studies show, for example, that health benefits only come with moderate drinking and are greatest for older men. And even moderate drinking is not recommended for women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, or for people who are under 21.

The strongest medical evidence exists for the link between moderate drinking and a reduced risk of heart disease.

Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, was the lead author of a New England Journal of Medicine study examining the roles of drinking patterns and heart disease that found, after 12 year of follow-up, that men who consumed alcohol between three and seven days a week had fewer heart attacks than men who drank once a week.

Below, Mukamal discusses the risk and benefits of moderate drinking.

Do we know why moderate drinking lowers heart disease risk?

We think that a lot of the benefits of alcohol are on the blood vessels and on blockages in the arteries to the heart and to the brain. This might be related to alcohol’s effect on the good cholesterol, the HDL cholesterol.

In fact, alcohol affects HDL levels just about as strongly as any other lifestyle factor. People also think that alcohol may lower heart attack risk by acting as a blood thinner.

What are some of the other health benefits associated with moderate drinking?

A wide variety of health effects have been attributed to moderate drinking. A lower risk of diabetes has been seen in women and men.

There actually have been experiments done in which alcohol was administered over a couple of months to people without diabetes. In those studies, most of which have been conducted in women interestingly, it looks like moderate drinking improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
It may actually lower insulin levels altogether and may prevent diabetes through that mechanism.

More recently we’ve done some work on moderate drinking and dementia. We looked at a group of older adults in the United States – average age was in the mid-70s – and found a reduced risk.

There has been some more work in slightly younger populations from Europe, and those studies have fairly consistently suggested that older adults who were drinking moderately may have a lower risk of dementia. We’re not exactly sure what the mechanisms may be behind that.

Some of it may very well be because drinking tends to occur in social settings and just the process of getting out and socializing may be an important way to prevent dementia.

There is also evidence that moderate drinking may prevent silent strokes or other subtle types of brain injury that we know over time can predispose to dementia. I think it’s still an area where we need some more investigation.

Is the pattern of alcohol consumption important?

In most of the studies that look at this issue, people have been asked ‘How much alcohol do you usually drink?’ When that question is asked, people take an average. For example, I drink 10 drinks a month. But 10 drinks a month is very different for someone who has them all on one night vs. someone who has them on 10 different nights of the month.

That kind of detail surprisingly hasn’t been available in most of the studies that have been devoted to this topic. In our study we tried to figure out the drinking pattern that’s most closely tied to lower heart attack risk.

What we found in a study of about 38,000 men was that the key factor wasn’t what men were drinking, or frankly even so much how much they were drinking at a time, but how frequently they were drinking alcohol.

We found that men who were drinking at least three to four days a week or more had lower heart attack risks than people who had one drink a week.

We also have some very strong studies showing that heart disease risk, while lower amongst moderate drinkers, can be substantially higher among people who drink to excess even occasionally.

They don’t have to be drinking excessively every single night to potentially have a greater heart attack risk.

Many of the effects of moderate drinking, such as acting as a blood thinner, are only true at moderate levels of drinking. Those effects actually go away and reverse if people drink too much.

What constitutes one drink?

What doctors usually consider a drink is basically a medium glass of wine, a 1.5 oz shot of spirits, or a can or bottle of beer. All of those have roughly similar amounts of pure alcohol in them.

We usually define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for adult women who aren’t pregnant and up to two drinks per day for adult men. Some guidelines recommend that moderate drinking among adults over 65 be limited to one drink per day.

Are the heart benefits of alcohol consumption the same for men and women?

In general, when we’re thinking about the putative health benefits of moderate drinking, they mostly apply to older people and to men. Issues for women and for younger individuals are much more difficult to sort out.

The role of alcohol consumption in heart disease varies strongly by gender. The reason for that is twofold. On the one hand, women at any given age tend to have lower risks of heart disease than men do.

As a result, the benefits of moderate drinking accrue disproportionately to men. At the same time, there are some particular risks of drinking for women that don’t exist for men.

There is some evidence that women may be particularly prone, for example, to liver disease related to drinking. Even moderate drinking may increase breast cancer risk.

And, while the effects on heart attack risk are roughly similar in men and women, I think it’s even more difficult to determine what the ideal level of drinking ought to be for women than it is for men.

I think it is fair to say that if young women in general are drinking with the expectation that there is some health benefit to it for them, they’re probably mistaken. Young women are a group of people for which, as of now, we basically have no clear proof that the overall balance of alcohol’s risks and benefits is going to work in their favor.

What are some of the risks of moderate drinking?

There is fairly consistent evidence that breast cancer rates are higher among women who drink moderately. I think that’s important because obviously breast cancer is very common disease. I certainly think women at high risk for breast cancer should talk with their doctors about whether they should be drinking any alcohol.

Another important risk, which is unrecognized for many people in this country, is that even moderate drinking among people with hepatitis C may increase their risk of permanent liver damage. Anybody who is known to have hepatitis C shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol at all.

People who have risk factors for hepatitis C ought to be tested because it will very substantially impact what the potential risks are related to moderate drinking.

In addition, although we don’t think moderate drinking necessarily clouds our judgment, it turns out that it probably does. In simulated driving tests that were done as far back as the 1950s, people have realized that at very low blood alcohol levels, simulated driving performance is impaired. When I say low blood alcohol, what I’m talking about is as low as .02 percent.

Some studies, for example, the analysis of the National Alcohol Survey, showed something similar. You begin to see higher risks of injury even when people are reporting one drink a day.

That’s why we still recommend that even moderate drinking occur in the home, preferably tied to meals.

That is not so much because we find that that drinking with a meal is more likely to lower heart disease risk, for example, but because it’s the safest way to prevent high blood alcohol levels that can get people into accidents.

What about people with a history of alcohol abuse?

Although it has been bantered back and forth, most people think that people who have a personal history of alcoholism very rarely can return to social drinking. People who, for personal or family reasons have never had alcohol before, at least as of now, probably shouldn’t start drinking for any health reason.

What is your advice for an individual who is weighing the risks or benefits of moderate drinking?

It’s hard to give any single piece of advice because of all the things we’ve learned about moderate drinking. The potential risks and benefits are going to vary by a person’s health history, their age, sex and family history.

The number of factors that would have to go into the decision is really very substantial. As a primary care doctor myself, these are long discussions that people should have with their doctor. I would not recommend that anybody go out tomorrow and start drinking alcohol simply on the basis of results that we and others have presented.

I would say that for people who are drinking moderately and are able to control it and don’t have any of the absolute reasons why they shouldn’t be drinking alcohol, that there is no evidence now that that’s a bad thing to do.

Beyond that, I don’t think right now we have enough evidence to say that anybody should take up drinking just for any particular benefit unless their doctors recommend that they do so.

Can Alcohol Help You Live Longer? Here’s What the Research Really Says

New research, which was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference, has found that moderate drinking is linked to a longer life. Drinking about two glasses of wine or beer a day was linked to an 18% drop in a person’s risk of early death—an even stronger effect than the life-preserving practice of exercise, according to the researchers. The results came from the 90+ Study, a research project out of the University of California Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders that examines the habits of people who live to at least 90.

Though the study has not yet been published in a scientific journal, it triggered a spate of booze-praising headlines. But can alcohol actually help you live longer? Researchers have gone back and forth on that question for years. Here’s what the research really says about alcohol and health.

Alcohol may be linked with longevity

The new study isn’t the first to link alcohol with a long life. A 2015 study of people with mild Alzheimer’s, for example, found that moderate drinkers were less likely to die during the study’s follow-up period than teetotalers. A large 2017 study also found that light and moderate drinkers were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who never sipped. Red wine, in particular, is often singled out for its anti-aging benefits, usually because of a compound called resveratrol — though that explanation may be a little oversimplified, and more research is needed.

Many of these papers come with caveats, however. Most of them are observational, meaning they can detect patterns in a dataset, but not cause and effect. That means it’s hard to tell whether the beverages themselves are imparting longevity benefits, or if the health effects come from other lifestyle factors common among moderate drinkers, such as a strong social network. Plus, most research focuses specifically on moderate drinking, which is typically defined as no more than a drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. Research has generally not found health benefits for people with heavier drinking habits — and, in fact, a recent report says that alcohol abuse is contributing to a decline in U.S. life expectancy.

Alcohol may or may not be good for your heart

The relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular health is perhaps the most contentious of all. Quite a few studies have linked moderate drinking with better heart health, but some researchers have questioned these findings based on something called the abstainer bias: the idea that many non-drinkers teetotal because they have other health issues, or because they’re recovering from addiction. Including these folks in studies could skew the data to make people who don’t drink look unfairly unhealthy, and to falsely equate booze with health benefits.

A large 2017 study looking at alcohol and heart health, however, was designed to eliminate the possibility of abstainer bias. It still found that moderate drinking may protect against heart attacks, strokes, chest pain and fatal heart disease.

Alcohol may be associated with cancer

The link between alcohol and cancer is strong enough that the American Society of Clinical Oncology came out with a new warning in November underscoring associations between drinking and at least seven types of cancer. The relationship between alcohol and breast cancer has been particularly well-studied, with scientists theorizing that alcohol may increase estrogen levels and therefore feed breast cancer. Other research suggests that alcohol may disrupt DNA activity, potentially leading to cancers of the breast, colon, liver, mouth and esophagus. These risks may be even more severe if you have certain other habits, such as smoking and drinking hot tea.

Alcohol may contribute to weight gain

It’s easy to forget, but alcoholic beverages are often quite high in calories. Regularly imbibing, then, can sneakily contribute to weight gain and obesity. Those can come with their own set of health problems, ranging from heart disease to type 2 diabetes.

The bottom line

There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about drinking, but the research clearly suggest that moderation is key. While it’s smart to cut back if your drinking veers into bingeing territory, there’s likely no reason to stop drinking if you do so in small amounts — just as you probably shouldn’t feel compelled to start sipping if you don’t already.

Most Popular on TIME

Write to Jamie Ducharme at [email protected]

Drinking alcohol in moderation is more harmful than previously thought, according to a new study that concludes there’s no “safe” level of alcohol consumption.

The comprehensive study, which analyzed information from millions of people in nearly 200 countries, found that alcohol is tied to nearly 3 million deaths globally each year, with about 1 in 10 deaths linked to alcohol use among people ages 15 to 49.

What’s more, any protective health effects of alcohol were offset by the drink’s risk, including strong links between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer and injuries such as those resulting from car accidents.

“The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published online Aug. 23 in the journal The Lancet. “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

The findings contrast with most health guidelines, which say that moderate drinking — about one drink a day for women and two for men — is safe.

However, it’s difficult to estimate the risks for a person who drinks fairly infrequently — such as someone who has one drink every two weeks — so the findings might not apply to this population. ” doesn’t mean, if you drink on birthdays and Christmas, you’re going to die,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University who was not involved in the study.

Rather, the findings apply more to people who have one drink a day, most days of the week, Humphreys said. Contrary to what some previous studies have found, “the kind of person who drinks every week, but never drinks much, is in fact not better off than somebody who doesn’t drink,” according to the new study, Humphreys told Live Science.

No “safe” level

The study analyzed information from nearly 700 previous studies to estimate how common drinking alcohol is worldwide, and examined almost another 600 studies including a total of 28 million people to investigate the health risks tied to alcohol.

The researchers found that, globally, about 1 in 3 people (32.5 percent) drink alcohol, which is equivalent to 2.4 billion people worldwide, including 25 percent of women and 39 percent of men.

Worldwide, drinking alcohol was the seventh-leading risk factor for early death in 2016, accounting for about 2 percent of deaths in women and 7 percent of deaths in men. For people ages 15 to 49, alcohol consumption was tied to 4 percent of deaths for women and 12 percent for men in 2016.

The study found that moderate drinking was, in fact, protective against ischemic heart disease. But this benefit was outweighed by the health risks of alcohol.

Specifically, for people who consume one drink a day, the risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems increases by 0.5 percent over one year, compared with someone who doesn’t drink.

But the risk increases rapidly the more people drink. For people who consume two drinks a day, the risk of developing one of the 23 alcohol-related health problems increases by 7 percent over one year, and for those who drink five drinks a day, the risk increases by 37 percent over one year.

“Alcohol poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today,” Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of global health at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The researchers said that, based on their results, public health campaigns should consider recommending abstinence from alcohol.

Alcohol abstinence?

Humphreys called the work the “most sophisticated global study of the impact of alcohol on human health ever conducted.”

“The study confirms that alcohol is one of the world’s leading causes of disability, disease and death,” Humphreys said.

However, in terms of recommending abstinence from alcohol, Humphreys said that promoting such a message would be difficult, in part because of the large number of people who currently drink alcohol and the influence of powerful industries in the alcohol market. “I’m not saying it’s a terrible idea,” Humphreys said, but “it would be a very tough uphill battle to be established.”

Still, in addition to considering abstinence, the researchers called for other policies that focus on reducing the population’s consumption of alcohol, such as increasing alcohol taxes, controlling the availability of alcohol and the hours it can be sold, and regulating alcohol advertising. “Any of these policy actions would contribute to reductions in population-level consumption, a vital step toward decreasing the health loss associated with alcohol use,” Gakidou said.

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Original article on Live Science.

Scientists hunt down the brain circuit responsible for alcohol cravings

“This discovery is exciting — it means we have another piece of the puzzle to explain the neural mechanism driving alcohol consumption,” says Olivier George, PhD, an associate professor at Scripps Research and senior author of the new study, published March 18, 2019 in the journal Nature Communications.

Although the laser treatment is far from ready for human use, George believes identifying these neurons opens the door to developing drug therapies or even gene therapies for alcohol addiction.

“We need compounds that are specific to this neuronal circuitry,” George says.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 15.1 million adults in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder. Previous work at Scripps Research has shown that transitioning from casual drinking to dependent drinking occurs alongside fundamental changes in how the brain sends signals. These signals drive the intense cravings that make it so difficult for many people to scale back their alcohol consumption.

George and his colleagues have been hunting for the brain cells that driving drinking in an alcohol-addicted rat model. In 2016, they reported that they had found a possible source: a neuronal “ensemble,” or group of connected cells in a brain region called the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). This finding marked major progress in mapping the brain, but the researchers needed to characterize the identity of the neurons in this ensemble.

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For the new study, they tested the role of a subset of neurons in the ensemble, called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons. The George laboratory had found that these CRF neurons make up 80 percent of the ensemble. Were these neurons the masterminds driving alcohol cravings?

The researchers studied these neurons using optogenetics, a technique that involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue. Rats used in this study were surgically implanted with optic fibers aimed to shine light on the CRF neurons — to inactivate them at the flip of a switch.

First, the scientists established a baseline for how much the rats would drink before they got addicted to alcohol. The rats drank little this point — the equivalent of a glass of wine or one beer for a human. The scientists then spent several months increasing consumption in these rats to establish alcohol dependence.

The researchers then withdrew the alcohol, prompting withdrawal symptoms in the rats. When they offered alcohol again, the rats drank more than ever. The CeA neuronal ensemble was active, telling the rats to drink more.

Then the scientists flipped on the lasers to inactivate the CRF neurons — and the results were dramatic. The rats immediately returned to their pre-dependent drinking levels. The intense motivation to drink had gone away. Inactivating these neurons also reduced the physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as abnormal gait and shaking.

“In this multidisciplinary study, we were able to characterize, target and manipulate a critical subset of neurons responsible for excessive drinking.” says Giordano de Guglielmo, PhD, first author of the study and staff scientist at Scripps Research. “This was a team effort, and while we used challenging techniques, working with experts in the field and with the right tools, made everything easier and enjoyable.”

The effect was even reversible. Turn off the lasers, and the rats returned to their dependent behavior.

From a basic science standpoint, this breakthrough is huge: It reveals wiring in the brain that drives a specific, destructive behavior. George says the next step in translating this work to humans is to find a way to selectively inhibit only these specific CRF neurons, perhaps using a novel or repurposed compound identified using high-throughput screening of large libraries of compounds.

Meanwhile, de Guglielmo plans to take a closer look at the signaling pathways in the brain affected when the CRF neurons are deactivated. The new study shows that reduced drinking is tied to the CRF neurons that send projections to reach another brain region called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. De Guglielmo thinks other projections from these neurons may have different roles in alcohol addiction. He is also interested in identifying the role of these brain circuits in opioid addiction.

It’s time to rethink how much booze may be too much

A couple of drinks a day aren’t bad for you and may even be good for you.

Right?

That’s been the message — from researchers, governments, and beverage companies — for decades. And as a result, many of us don’t think twice about tossing back a glass of wine or a few beers after work.

But maybe we should. Because it turns out the story about the health effects of moderate drinking is shifting pretty dramatically. New research on alcohol and mortality, and a growing awareness about the rise in alcohol-related deaths in the US, is causing a reckoning among researchers about even moderate levels of alcohol consumption.

In September, a World Health Organization report found an estimated 3 million people die every year because of alcohol consumption. That’s 5 percent of all deaths. Booze is also a leading risk factor for early death and disability among people aged 15 and 49.

In April, a big meta-study involving 600,000 participants, published in April in the Lancet, suggested that levels of alcohol previously thought to be relatively harmless are linked with an earlier death. What’s more, drinking small amounts of alcohol may not carry all the long-touted protective effects on the cardiovascular system.

“For years, there was a sense that there was an optimal level which was not drinking no alcohol but drinking moderately that led to the best health outcomes,” said Duke University’s Dan Blazer, an author of the paper. “I think we’re going to have to rethink that a bit.”

Alongside this study have come disturbing reports of the alcohol industry’s involvement in funding science that may have helped drinking look more favorable, as well as a growing worry that many people are naive about alcohol’s health effects. How many people know, for example, that as far back as 1988, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer designated alcohol a level-one carcinogen? Some say too few.

Maybe it’s time that changes — with some caveats, as usual.

The “French paradox,” and why researchers thought a bit of alcohol was good for you

The story of light drinking as a healthy behavior started to take off in the 1990s, when many researchers believed red wine might be a magical elixir. This idea was known as the “French paradox” — the observation that the French drank lots of wine, and despite eating a diet rich in saturated fat, had lower rates of cardiovascular disease.

Researchers have since discovered it’s more than just their wine consumption that sets French people apart. But the red wine idea was replaced by a narrative suggesting drinking small amounts of any type of alcohol — no more than one drink a day for women, two for men — appeared to be linked with modest health and heart benefits.

In long-term observational studies comparing drinkers and non-drinkers, light to moderate drinkers (who imbibed about one to two units of alcohol a day) often had better health outcomes compared to non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. They had lower rates of heart disease and heart attacks and lived longer. Moderate drinkers also had lower rates of diabetes, another important risk factor for heart disease (although this result is less definitive).

But there was a problem with many of these studies: They compared drinkers to non-drinkers, instead of comparing only lighter drinkers to heavier drinkers. And people who don’t drink are pretty fundamentally different from drinkers in ways that are hard to control for in a study. Their lives probably look dissimilar.

Most importantly, they may be sicker at baseline (perhaps they quit drinking because of alcoholism, or because of a health issue like cancer). And something in these differences — not their avoidance of alcohol — may have caused them to look like they were in poorer health than the moderate drinkers. (This became known as the “sick quitter” problem in the world of alcohol research.)

Lately, researchers have been trying to overcome that problem by comparing lighter drinkers with heavier drinkers. And the benefits of modest amounts of alcohol wash away.

The upper safe limit for drinking may be lower than you think

The most important new study on this published in the Lancet in April. Researchers brought together data from 83 studies in 19 countries, focusing on nearly 600,000 current drinkers (again, to overcome the “sick quitter” problem). They wanted to tease out what level of drinking was associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

Their findings were stark: Drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol — about seven standard glasses of wine or beer — per week was associated with an increased in risk of death for all causes, they concluded. In the US, the government suggests men can drink double that amount — up to two drinks per day — but advise women who are not pregnant to drink up to one drink per day.

A person’s risk of death shot up as they drank more. The researchers used a mathematical model to estimate that people who consumed between seven and 14 drinks per week had a lower life expectancy at age 40 of about six months; people who drank between 14 and 24 drinks per week had one to two years shaved off their lives; and people who imbibed more than 24 drinks a week had a lower life expectancy of four to five years.

You can see the risk increase in this chart here:

Lancet

“We wanted to find how much alcohol people can drink before they started being at a higher risk of dying,” said the lead author on the study, Cambridge University biostatistics professor Angela Wood. “Our results suggest an upper safe limit of drinking of around 100 grams of alcohol per week for men and for women. Drinking above this limit was related to lower life expectancy.”

Again, that’s different from the US guidelines, which suggest men can drink double that. The recommended upper limits of alcohol consumption in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are about 50 percent higher than the seven-drinks-per-week threshold the paper revealed.

The researchers also estimated that men who halved their alcohol consumption — from about 14 drinks per week to about seven — might gain one to two years in life expectancy.

What’s more, because they looked at so many studies on so many people, they were able to tease out alcohol’s effects on a number of measures of cardiovascular health — heart attack, heart failure, stroke. They found moderate alcohol consumption — around seven to 14 drinks per week — was associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease according to some of the measures they looked at, including stroke, aortic aneurysm, and heart failure​. These risks were generally higher for the people who drank more.

The exception was non-fatal heart attacks. The more people drank, the more their risk of heart attack went down. The researchers thought this may be driven by the fact that people who drink more tend to have high levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol — or the “good cholesterol” — which could put them at a lower risk of dying from a heart attack.

But that benefit should be balanced against alcohol’s other cardiovascular risks, including stroke, aortic aneurysm, and heart failure, said Eastern Virginia Medical School researcher Andrew Plunk. “Even though there might be some benefit for heart attacks, the other risks associated with it wash that out,” he added.

Newer research is finding similar associations with moderate levels of drinking. In a forthcoming paper, posted to BioRXiv, researchers took a similar approach to tease out the risks of drinking — using moderate drinkers instead of non-drinkers as the reference point to circumvent the “sick quitter” problem once again. The paper is only in pre-print and still needs to be peer-reviewed, but for now, its authors came to similar conclusions as the Lancet study, even though they used a different set of data.

More specifically, people who had one to two drinks four times or more weekly had a greater risk of dying from all causes than those who drank one to two drinks at a time weekly or less. And again, there was no difference between male and female study participants, which contradicts US government guidelines.

“When the reference point is never-drinkers, it looks like you can drink a lot before you have an increased risk,” said Washington University School of Medicine substance dependence researcher Sarah Hartz, the lead author on the BioRXiv pre-print. “But if the reference is the lightest group of current drinkers, it looks like any amount of drinking will increase your risk.”

“What we need to keep in mind is that alcohol is dangerous”

Before you empty out your liquor cabinet, however, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Nutrition science — including research on the effects of alcohol — is still in its infancy. There’s a lot even the best studies are forced to leave out. What were the lives of the study participants like? How do they eat? Where did they live? Did they exercise?

The supplementary material in the Lancet paper suggests these and other potential confounding factors may have been pretty important in determining people’s alcohol-associated health risks.

For example, in a subgroup analysis on the effects of alcohol by alcohol type, the Lancet authors found that spirit and beer drinkers seemed to have a higher risk of death and cardiovascular disease compared to wine drinkers. But they also found that beer and spirit drinkers looked pretty different from the wine drinkers: They were more likely to be lower income, male, and smokers and to have jobs that involved manual labor, compared with the wine drinkers.

“These findings suggest that the heavy beer consumption is part of an unhealthy lifestyle that is more frequently seen among people with lower socioeconomic status,” said Cecile Janssens, a research professor of epidemiology at Emory University. “Unhealthy diet, smoking, less exercise, less access to health care, etc., might all contribute to the higher risks.”

So you’d need to take these other factors into account to truly understand the risks of alcohol consumption, and the study didn’t.

“My major concern with the study is its inability to control for many confounders,” said Aaron E. Carroll, a physician and author of the book The Bad Food Bible. “Race is a big one — although they analyzed this in the appendix. So is socio-economic status. You also can’t ignore other dietary issues, exercise, and other factors which are related to disease and mortality.”

Failing to account for these factors could have exaggerated alcohol’s effects. It’s also possible that just cutting back alcohol, in this context, wouldn’t make much of a difference in life expectancy for some people.

“I’m not going to argue alcohol is good for you,” Carroll added. “It might be in preventing some outcomes. But there’s a gray zone in there as to where the damage starts to happen. I bet it’s very individual-dependent, and confounded by many, many other factors in an individual’s life.”

In a great tweetstorm, Oregon Health and Sciences University assistant professor Vinay Prasad explained additional limitations with this study, and why so much of nutritional science isn’t helpful at giving specific health advice. He suggested people use common sense instead to guide their decisions about how much alcohol is too much:

A couple weeks ago I said these HARSH words about a recent Lancet study & the media coverage where the authors argued more than 5-7 drinks a wk (100g/wk) was too many
I took heat
Well, I meant it then, and I mean it now.
And here is the TWEETORIAL on this paper/ nutritional epi pic.twitter.com/wooPfENRtD

— Vinay Prasad (@VinayPrasadMD) April 28, 2018

Plus, Blazer said, “if you try to abide by every public health warning out there for every adverse effect, you’d have a miserable life. You wouldn’t do anything.”

Nonetheless, the new research is a reminder of something we often forget: Alcohol’s health effects are real, and they are serious. Excessive drinking can, over time, increase the risk of everything from liver disease to high blood pressure, dependency issues, and memory and mental health problems. Alcohol-related deaths have been going up in America: between 1999 and 2016, cirrhosis deaths rose by 65 percent — and the largest increases in that period were driven by alcoholic cirrhosis among young people, ages 25 to 34 years. As Vox’s German Lopez has reported, this is an underappreciated fact that often gets lost in the coverage of opioids.

(Here you can see deaths that are directly caused by the health consequences of alcohol, so the figures don’t include deaths from drunk driving, alcohol-related murder, et cetera. If it did, the death tally from excessive drinking use would now be closer to 90,000 per year).

“Not a lot of people know alcohol is a level-one carcinogen,” Harvard Medical School addiction researcher John F. Kelly told me. Any amount of drinking is associated with an increased breast cancer risk — something journalist Stephanie Mencimer admitted in Mother Jones she didn’t appreciate until she found out she has stage-two breast cancer.

“While doctors have frequently admonished me for putting cream in my coffee lest it clog my arteries … not once has any doctor suggested I might face a higher cancer risk if I didn’t cut back on drinking,” she wrote. For men and women, drinking is also known to increase the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon cancer.

But when the weekend rolls around, and you want to cut loose, it’s not easy to face up to these facts. Alcohol is a huge part of our culture, and the problems it can carry aren’t always easy to swallow. But these new studies should sound a cautionary note, Blazer said.

“What we need to keep in mind is that alcohol is dangerous — and the danger of alcohol doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the stage of Mencimer’s breast cancer.

8 Reasons Drinking Alcohol Is Actually Good for You

Alcohol’s biggest benefits are well known and well-studied: A glass of wine a day can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease and even help you live longer, and resveratrol-vino’s touted antioxidant-has power health perks. But the benefits of tippling-in moderation!-go far beyond heart health, longevity, and red wine. In fact, a drink here and there-be it beer, liquor, or white wine-can do everything from strengthen your brain to keep colds at bay.

B Is for Beer and B Vitamins

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There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a cold beer on a steamy summer day. But beers shouldn’t always be slammed as empty calories. Research, including a 2011 study, finds that beer is richer in thiamin and riboflavin (two B vitamins) than wines and ciders. Researchers suspect this is because of the base materials used (like barley and hops) and the differences in processing the drinks. (If this isn’t enough to convince you, then check out 7 Healthy Reasons to Be Drinking Beer.)

Booze Can Be Kind to Your Kidneys

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A 2013 study found that while drinking sugary drinks was linked to an increased risk of developing kidney stones (by between 23 and 33 percent), drinking beer and wine was actually linked to a lower risk-about 41 and 31 percent lower, respectively, the research found. And while these are just associations, this suggests that a beer (key thing here: one beer) could win out over a soda at that post-work dinner!

Vodka Is a Germ-Killing Mouthwash Substitute

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Remember the old ad, “Smirnoff leaves you breathless”? Turns out there’s some truth to that. If you find yourself out of mouthwash, you could do worse than gargling with a couple ounces of vodka. “The high percentage of alcohol in vodka has antibacterial qualities,” says Renee McGregor, R.D. and author of Training Food. Vodka kills the nasty smelling germs, and if you want to kick it up a notch, add some cloves, mint, or cinnamon to the hooch for extra freshness. But save the pricey Grey Goose for your martini. Inexpensive, off-brand vodkas will do the trick fine. (Learn more ways to use your vodka: 5 Things to Do With Your Cocktail Besides Drink It.)

Vodka Cranberry Is a Brain-Boosting Super Drink

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Okay, maybe not. But a recent study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggests that the moderately inebriated may have an edge when it comes to creative problem solving. The research found that young men fed vodka cranberries until they had a blood alcohol level of .075 solved more creative problem tasks in less time than their sober counterparts.

A Little Wine May Keep a Cold at Bay

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While heavy drinking can take a serious toll on your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of disease and sickness, in moderation, a little booze could help you put up a fight, finds recent research from Oregon Health & Science University. The study was done in rhesus macaques-monkeys that have an immune system very similar to humans-and the researchers expect for results to translate to humans. The key finding: Monkeys who overdid it saw a decreased immune response.

Some Cider Is Packed with Antioxidants

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Hard apple cider can be an effervescent and tangy alternative to beer and wine. The beverage, which is experiencing a renaissance in popularity in the U.S., also has some unique health benefits. “Apples have a high composition of the polyphenol antioxidants essential for good health; studies have demonstrated that these antioxidants are still abundant even when apples are made into cider,” says McGregor.

Fernet-Branca Aids Digestion

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Fernet-Branca-the bitter Italian liqueur concocted from a centuries-old family recipe-is a drink of choice among chefs, bartenders, and cocktail aficionados. While even fans of the digestif admit that it’s an acquired taste, they virtually all swear by the potable’s medicinal magic. The complete list of its 27 herbs remains a secret, but the company’s website does reveal some ingredients, and McGregor says they may indeed have some tonic effects. “The mix of herbs, particularly cardamom, camomile, and saffron, is known to aid with digestion.”

Red for the Win

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If you have a choice, drinking red wine may be even healthier than white-but for more reasons that just the heart health perks! On average, a glass of red wine has more iron, magnesium, and potassium, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids that may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database. (Wine is also one of the 5 Everyday Drinks You Didn’t Know Could Burn Fat.)

  • By Chris Artis

Alcohol and health benefits

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