Study shatters myth that a drink or two a day is completely fine (update)

24 Aug 2018

Image: Gemenacom/Shutterstock

For years, people have debated about how much alcohol is good for you, but a new study dismisses the idea that any amount is healthy.

Whether based on scientific data or not, people have long debated about the supposed health benefits of having a glass of red wine with your dinner or that a few beers in a week don’t affect your health.

However, a study published to The Lancet by researchers working for the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has dismissed the notion that there is any healthy amount of alcohol to consume.

Its findings show that in 2016, almost 3m deaths globally were attributed to drinking alcohol, with 12pc of these deaths being males aged between 15 and 49.

The authors of the study said that it did not distinguish between different types of alcohol such as beer, wine or liquor.

It analysed 694 global data sources in addition to 592 prospective and retrospective studies on alcohol consumption and found that approximately a quarter of the planet (2bn people) were drinkers, 63pc of who were male.

The ‘average consumption’ figure was based on a standard drink – 10g of pure alcohol – consumed by a person daily.

A standard drink varies considerably between countries, from 8g in the UK to 20g in Japan.

Shattering of a myth

“Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer and cardiovascular problems,” said Dr Emmanuela Gakidou, senior author of the study.

“Zero alcohol consumption minimises the overall risk of health loss.”

The study also found that the highest number of attributable deaths per 100,000 people was found in Lesotho (145.3), Russia (118.4) and the Central African Republic (108.8). Meanwhile, the lowest attributable deaths were found in Kuwait (0.3), Iran (0.4) and Palestine (0.4).

Ireland does appear on one of the metrics, coming just ahead of the UK with an average of 3.1 standard drinks per day based on a population average among women.

“The myth that one or two drinks a day are good for you is just that – a myth. This study shatters that myth,” Gakidou added.

The industry responds

In response to the study, William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association, claimed that it contradicts existing research.

“The Lancet study is one of a number of reports published in recent weeks and months outlining the pros and cons of drinking,” he said.

“With such a volume of conflicting evidence, it is hardly surprising that people might be confused about what is a safe level of drinking.”

He continued: “The Lancet study suggests that there is no safe level of drinking, which contradicts the findings of other scientific studies, which have found that moderate consumption can result in improved health outcomes.

“It is unrealistic to suggest that people should just stop drinking; however, it is important that there is an overall better awareness about the HSE low-risk guidelines.”

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland – which the Irish Whiskey Association is a part of – believes that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a balanced lifestyle.

Updated, 12.44pm, 24 August 2018: This article was updated to include comments from the Irish Whiskey Association.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic