Some recent studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption to health benefits, such as lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Other studies tout potential health benefits of drinking wine and tequila.
However, results of a new study from the University of Greifswald in Germany contradict the idea of drinking alcohol to protect health.
Earlier studies have shown an increased mortality risk in people who abstain from alcohol, compared with individuals who consume low to moderate alcohol amounts. However, the authors of the recent study chalk this up to risky behaviors that people abstaining from alcohol engaged in earlier in their lives.
The study appears in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Alcohol and health
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2019, 85.6% of individuals in the United States aged 18 years or older reported that they had consumed an alcoholic beverage at one time in their life.
The NIAAA also reports that 14.5 million people in the U.S. aged 12 years or older are living with alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the NIAAA, AUD is “characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
The NIAAA also notes that about 95,000 people in the U.S. die each year from alcohol-related causes. This makes alcohol the third largest preventable cause of death in the country.
Previous research suggests that people drinking alcohol in moderation live longer than those who do not consume it. Another, older study concludes that men who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have a higher life expectancy than individuals who drink alcohol occasionally or heavily.
Prof. Dr. Ulrich John and his team believe their research shows that the lower life expectancy for those who do not drink alcohol compared with those who do can be due to other high risk factors.
This contradicts the idea that consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol confers health benefits.
“It is a problem […] that medical students and patients are given the advice that it might [improve] health if they drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol,” Dr. John told Medical News Today.
“For many years, epidemiological data seemed to reveal that low to moderate alcohol consumers live longer than alcohol abstainers. This was the scientific base for the attitude in medical care that alcohol consumption might support health, in particular cardiovascular health.”
“In the last few years, more and more shortcomings of the former research became known,” Dr. John continued. “So, we tried to prove what kind of subgroups are among the abstainers, subgroups perhaps with risk factors that might explain the seemingly higher likelihood to die early compared with low to moderate drinkers.”