VICTORIA, British Columbia — People who point to various studies that tout the health benefits of moderate drinking as justification for their daily nightcap may want to think twice before pouring the next glass. New research is challenging the popular notion that moderate levels of alcohol consumption protect from heart disease.
Scientists in Canada analyzed 45 previous studies which had concluded that moderate drinking can be good for the heart and found they may contain a glaring mistake: participants counted as “non-drinkers” could actually be those who simply gave up drinking or decided to limit consumption for age or health concerns.
“We know that people generally cut down on drinking as they age, especially if they have health problems,” says researcher Dr. Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria, in a press release. “People who continue to be moderate drinkers later in life are healthier. They’re not sick, or taking medications that can interact with alcohol.”
According to Stockwell, this can lead to the assumption that moderate drinking is linked with better health.
The analysis found that while those who consumed up to two drinks per day did have a lower rate of heart disease than those who didn’t drink, the finding wasn’t seen in studies that monitored drinkers’ habits prior to the age of 55, and then examined them in their senior years more prone to heart ailments.
It also found that those who abstained from drinking tended to be less healthy than drinkers not because they never drank, but because their poor health may be influencing them not to drink.
“We can’t ‘prove’ it one way or the other,” says Stockwell. “But we can say there are grounds for a healthy skepticism around the idea that moderate drinking is good for you.”
A second study that followed over 9,000 UK adults yielded similar results — those over 55 give up alcohol due to age-related health issues, possibly adding to the illusion that drinkers are healthier. They also found that people who didn’t drink, despite their age, were found to be in worse physical condition and typically less educated than moderate drinkers.
“The notion that one or two drinks a day is doing us good may just be wishful thinking,” notes Stockwell.
The research was published last month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.