Major study debunks myth that moderate drinking can be healthy

Leslie Hanson
April 7, 2019

The subjects were followed for 10 years, and over 160,000 people had one of the two genetic variants that significantly reduced their alcohol consumption to almost zero per day.

He added: "This study gets around the problem of accurate recording of consumption by using genetic methodology to estimate people's likelihood, throughout their lifetime, of a particular drinking pattern".

The researchers say their key message is that there is now clear evidence of no protective effect of moderate drinking on stroke. The researchers looked at how many had strokes or heart attacks, and compared them to participants without the variants and to the women with the variants. "This should help inform personal choices and public health strategies", said Liming Li, a researcher at Peking University and study co-author.

Writing in the Lancet, researchers from the United Kingdom and China described how they examined the impact of alcohol on stroke using a type of natural experiment.

For people who drink up to two drinks a day - which would qualify as moderate drinking - scientists said they would have an increased stroke risk of about 10% to 15% when compared to nondrinkers.

"The fact that this is not true for Chinese women, who tend not to drink whatever their genes, suggests this effect is due to the alcohol rather than the genes themselves".

In East Asian populations, the researchers say, there are common genetic variants that greatly reduce alcohol tolerance, because they cause an extremely unpleasant flushing reaction after drinking alcohol.

"Drinking in the United Kingdom has been falling for more than a decade and most people drink within the new lower government guideline".

"Our genetic analyses have helped us understand the cause-and-effect relationships", Lead author Dr Iona Millwood, from the Medical Research Council Population Health Research Unit at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.

The authors claimed that it would be impossible to do such a study in Western populations because very few people would have the relevant genetic variants.

The theory that a small amount of alcohol might be good for you may finally have been debunked.

What do other experts say?

For instance, previous year a study found that drinking just one extra glass of wine or pint of beer over the recommended weekly limit could cut your life expectancy by 30 minutes.

One of the study's authors professor Sir Richard Peto explained: "Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the chances of having a stroke".

But he said the research reflected the culmination of many years of research into the impact of alcohol consumption.

They found that, among men, genetics that decreased alcohol intake also reduced blood pressure and stroke risk.

"It has certainly advanced what we know about the role of alcohol in some diseases but it can't be the last word", he said. "This large collaborative study has shown that stroke rates are increased by alcohol". David Spiegelhalter, professor at the University of Cambridge, stated that for every half a bottle of wine drunk every day, the total risk of stroke increases by 38 per cent. "Sadly the hope that alcohol somehow protects against cardiovascular disease is probably unfounded".

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