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Researchers writing in the journal Lancet (1) report that drinking is unlikely to be good for you. The popular notion that one or two units of alcohol a day can be protective from heart disease had been well supported by observational data, although there had been no clinical trials to confirm the theory [but then, so was the equally popular notion that hormone replacement therapy protected women from heart disease—until proper clinical trials showed that observational data cannot always be trusted]. It now seems likely that complete tee-totallers are simply too different from people who drink in moderation to be able to quantify the impact of alcohol on heart disease.
In a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2) 27 out of 30 cardiovascular risk factors were more common among abstainers than moderate drinkers. The study was carried out in the U.S. by telephone survey, and found that non-drinkers were more likely to have characteristics associated with increased cardiovascular disease mortality in terms of demographic factors, social factors, behavioural factors, access to health care, and health-related conditions. This makes moderate drinkers look good, even though their lower cardiovascular risk is nothing to do with the occasional glass of wine.
The study concludes: "Given their limitations, nonrandomized studies about the health effects of moderate drinking should be interpreted with caution, particularly since excessive alcohol consumption is a leading health hazard in the United States." If anything, heavy drinking is more likely to be protective of heart disease than light drinking, say the researchers. Unfortunately, there's little point in cleaning out your coronary arteries with a cellular poison that will simply kill you in some other way.
It would appear that moderate drinkers live longer in spite of their occasional glass of wine, not because of it. Season's Greetings.
1) Lancet 2005;366: 1911-2
Alcohol and ischaemic heart disease: probably no free lunch.
Jackson R, Broad J, Connor J, Wells S
2) Am J Prev Med. 2005 May;28(4):369-73.
Cardiovascular risk factors and confounders among nondrinking and moderate-drinking U.S. adults.
Naimi TS, Brown DW, Brewer RD, et. al.
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