Studies linking alcohol to health benefits based on flawed science: research

Image: ABC

By consumer affairs reporter Amy Bainbridge and Alex McDonald

The notion that moderate drinking can help you live a longer and healthier life is being challenged by new research released today.
A team of international researchers found that a number of studies linking one or two drinks per day with a range of health benefits were based on flawed science.

Curtin University’s Tanya Chikritzhs, the principal investigator for the project, said her team analysed 87 studies and found most of them used questionable methodology.

Professor Chikritzhs said the main problem was how the studies compared drinkers with non-drinkers to gauge which group was healthier.

Moderate drinkers were more often than not being compared to abstainers, she said.

Professor Chikritzhs said the problem with that approach was that the group of abstainers included former drinkers, who had given up alcohol because of poor health.

“What these studies tend to do when they’re trying to identify an abstainer group is to mix up in there a whole bunch of people who haven’t drunk in the last 12 months with a whole bunch of people who used to drink 10 years ago, five years ago and so on,” Professor Chikritzhs told the ABC.

“So essentially they set up a situation where an abstainer group looks as if they’re in worse health than the drinker group.

“What we identified is when you account for this bias built into the methodologies of these studies, you actually don’t find a protective effect of alcohol at all.”
Professor Chikritzhs said there were other ways to look more accurately at the health impacts of drinking.

“What we found in our study is the best comparison group is not non-drinkers at all, but occasional drinkers, so these are people who drink in such small amounts that biologically alcohol could have no effect on their body in terms of protection,” she said.

“What we actually found in terms of these occasional drinkers in terms of the longevity stakes — who lives longer — it’s the occasional drinker who live the longest, so they outdo the people who are drinking at moderate levels.”


Studies show moderate drinkers are happier: alcohol industry

But Paul Evans, the chief executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, said there was an overwhelming body of international evidence to suggest moderate wine consumption did benefit the broader population.

“There are also many, many studies that [show that] wine consumers who drink in moderation have longer, happier, more optimistic, disease-free lives than people who either abstain or drink at at-risk levels,” he told the ABC.

“The study that’s come out is very biased, it comes from an organisation that has a very longstanding anti-alcohol position. It’s really just a neo-prohibitionist agenda being put to consumers that there’s no safe levels of alcohol intake, and that’s just not right.”

Mr Evans said the recent study did not accurately represent the decades of research that had gone into the link between health and alcohol.

“There are examples where modest alcohol intake has a range of benefits to your health, not that that is the reason why we drink, but it certainly means consumers shouldn’t be frightened by negative comments made today,” he said.

The findings are published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The team of researchers were from the University of Victoria in Canada, the Institute for Scientific Analysis in California, the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health in Massachusetts, and the National Drug Research Institute at Perth’s Curtin University.

Do you drink alcohol regularly?


© 2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.