Moderate Drinking Isn't Actually Good For Your Health, Says Most Depressing Study Of The Year
Someone get us some pearls to clutch: According to recent research, moderate drinking isn't actually good for you. If you follow pop science at all, you've no doubt read dozens of studies claiming the exact opposite — that alcohol is good for your heart, that a glass of wine is equivalent to an hour of exercise, or even that drinking can literally make you live longer. Surely one study isn't enough to outweigh an entire body of research, right? Right?
Tragically, it's less a matter of one study overturning the others and more a matter of the others overturning themselves. Researchers at University of Victoria's Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia examined nearly 90 studies analyzing the relationship between alcohol and cause of death, and they found a serious flaw in the ones linking moderate drinking — defined as anything from one drink a week to one drink a day — to longer life expectancy. According to their analysis, these studies frequently fall prey to "abstainer bias," meaning that scientists included people with other health problems in the non-drinking group. It may not sound like a big deal, but this means people whose health problems prevented them from drinking were grouped with people who abstain for other reasons — and that may make casual drinkers seem healthier by comparison.
According to Mic, only 13 of the studies managed to avoid this bias, and researchers considered only six studies to be "high quality." In fact, when they accounted for abstainer bias, the longevity advantage in moderate drinkers disappeared entirely. "[A]bstainers and low-volume, occasional drinkers were all pretty similar in terms of risk from dying of any causes," lead researcher Tim Stockwell told CBS News.
The meta-analysis is a departure from the traditional J-shaped curve supported by most studies linking alcohol and longevity, which indicate that light-to-moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers, while heavy drinkers face the highest health risks. This isn't to say that moderate drinking is going to kill you; rather, the study indicates that it's not the elixir of life that many studies suggest it may be.
It should be noted that these are the results of just one study, so there's no need to toss out your liquor cabinet just yet. Furthermore, there are a number of studies indicating that under the right circumstances, light drinking can have mental health benefits like reducing stress. On the other hand, there are also a number of studies unambiguously showing that long-term binge drinking has serious health risks, including high blood pressure, cancer, and memory problems.
So what's the takeaway here? Like most things, alcohol is best enjoyed in moderation. A few glasses of wine a week aren't going to shorten your lifespan, but they're probably not going to extend it, either. Also, scientists are real buzzkills sometimes.