Subjects: Public health
In 1924, Johns Hopkins biologist Raymond Pearl published a U-shaped graph showing high death rates for heavy drinkers and abstainers, and lower death rates among moderate drinkers.
Since then, hundreds of observational studies have confirmed the association and suggested reasons for it.
The juice is purported to reduce coronary disease, for example, because it increases HDL cholesterol and has anti-clotting effects.
Moderate alcohol consumption is also associated with slower cognitive decline in the mildly impaired elderly and improved bone mineral density in elderly women. In addition, light drinkers tend not to develop diabetes, and that those with diabetes tend not to develop coronary disease.
Could all this research be wrong?
“The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right — they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately,” affirmed Kaye Fillmore, a retired sociologist from UCSF. “It’s hard to disentangle all of that, and that’s a problem.”
And alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, has a dark side. It has been linked to multiple cancers, fatal accidents, neuropathies and of course, liver disease.
That’s why health guidelines on the matter walk a fine line. The American Heart Association warns that people should not start drinking to protect themselves from cardiac disease. And the US dietary guidelines hedge goes something like this: “alcohol may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation.”
A confounding factor is that at least some studies showing a beneficial association were funded by the alcohol industry.
A few years ago for example, BU physician Curtis Ellison hosted a conference on the subject and published a summary one year later. The summary indicated the attendees had reached a “consensus” that moderate drinking “has predominantly beneficial effects on health.”
The meeting, as well as much of Ellison’s work, was partially financed by the industry, according to the New York Times. And the summary itself was co-authored by Marjana Martinic, a senior VP for the International Center for Alcohol Policies, an industry-supported group. Yeesh!