The health drink of the nation is not alcohol

When you take your next alcoholic drink and say to yourself, or the people with you, that it’s good for you, think again.

If you believe that you can receive any health benefits from low consumption of alcohol, then you need to read the latest research from the UK. Published in the British Medical Journal last week the paper identifies that the beneficial effects of alcohol may have been skewed by the sampling techniques used.

The authors looked at 10 waves of health surveys linked to mortality data. They found the studies that showed positive benefits of alcohol often compared drinkers to non-drinkers and the category of non-drinkers included both lapsed and non-drinkers.

When sampling methods put non-drinkers together with lapsed drinkers it appears as if the non-drinker group is in worse health than they actually are, and at greater risk of disease or premature death than moderate drinkers. Knott et al state in their paper that “specifically former drinkers have been found to exhibit poorer self-reported health, higher levels of depression and increased risk of mortality” than those who have never had a drink.

In other words, lapsed or former drinkers may already be more unhealthy than other groups.

However the BMJ report does say age is an important variable when assessing the impact of alcohol on morbidity, so it can be misleading to include older drinkers with young drinkers in the same category of ‘drinkers’.

Politicians and the liquor industry were quick to take up the message that alcohol was good for you. More recently, as reported last week in GrogWatch, the ALSA (Australian Liquor Stores Association) said older people who are consuming less alcohol may not be gaining from the health benefits.

Preventative messages have been watered down because of the belief that alcohol provided a health benefit. For many years the alcohol industry has traded on the reports that alcohol is good for you, but they always left out the small print (that it was okay in tiny quantities for older people). Now that we have clear evidence about the lack of health benefits from drinking it’s time we make sure everyone understands the truth.