He short answer to the question posed in the title is attributed to Ben Franklin-“Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see” (or read).
First, recognize that study (could apply to some study ) concerning the effects of alcohol on one’s well-being, might be initiated and conducted with several degrees of bias. By way of instance, I recently noticed conflicting research data from two seemingly benign sources concerning the benefits, or lack of, in alcohol consumption. Both studies appeared in the Health section on the Newsmax website on August 24, 2018.
The lead article on the 24th had a headline:”No Safe Level of Alcohol”, another appeared on the 22nd:”Moderate Drinking May Protect Your Health”. With just the information implied by the names, what take-aways should the reader be left to contemplate?
What is the consumer to trust? For years I have been writing on conflicted studies relative to the benefits of drinking alcohol and wine in general. I find the disparity in studies may have a deleterious impact on making reasoned decisions from information in such studies. If you enjoy consuming some alcoholic beverages, you are no doubt interested in the long-term effects. But, based on never-ending studies covering both sides of the issue, it’s difficult to have much faith in any one study or even arrive at a fair conclusion.
Most benefits of wine consumption are based around cardiovascular benefits. A French scientist analyzed wine and grape seeds/skins for decades. He was widely released relative to the anti-oxidant benefits from wine, and grape seeds in particular. His decisions in the 80’s was that the benefits of wine, especially grape seed extracts, were remarkable relative to heart health, vascular system, and skin elasticity, to name a few. “In 1985, Jack Masquelier was able to further clarify the intense and instant positive effects that OPCs (an anti-oxidant compound in grape seeds/skin and wine) have on the human body when he discovered that OPCs neutralize free radicals, the frequent cause of degenerative conditions and premature onset of age-associated changes within the body.”
The point being; seeds and skin of grapes have high concentrations of OPC’s and while drinking wine contains some anti-oxidant values (derived primarily from resveratrol) most are found in grape seeds and skin. In fact, there are some large wine producers (Gallo being one) also producing grape seed extract for the nutritional supplement industry. Also, resveratrol is being used in certain topical anti-ageing skin products.
I you do an online search for advantages of wine and wine by-products; the search yields are too many to count. Sufficed to say, people have been reporting on both benefits and harmful effects of alcohol for decades. But, can you rely on any of the research? Some is anecdotal, filled with biases and predetermined findings that are targeted. It’s like chasing rainbows if one tries to make healthful lifestyle changes based upon trusted and potent information. We are told to drink a great deal of water, but not to much; now, how is that denying trusted information? Alcohol consumption has been a simple fact of life long before Christ.
If past research were based on science, why do their initial conclusions change so fast? In the 1970’s a Navy doctor told me to limit coffee intake to two cups every day and preferably none. He stipulated that research demonstrated that drinking coffee hardened arteries and was harmful to kidneys. Now there are doctors that tout the anti-oxidant values of java and in fact promote coffee consumption. What changed?
Stated in the one study highlighting” the ill effects of alcohol”, the author states,”The protective effect of alcohol was (is) offset from the risks,” Griswold told AFP in outlining the results, published in medical journal The Lancet on Friday–“No Safe Level of Alcohol”. If one reads just the headlines there are a number of problems that come to mind; mostly about with how the study was conducted, and details presented. Maybe the data was badly aggregated. Simply, how can we have confidence in using the data to determine if lifestyle changes are appropriate, especially if information is faulty? Maybe we just feel that the conflicting information from the public domain is not worth much consideration.
In addressing the much-reported advantages specific to wine, Griswold says,”despite recent research demonstrating that light-to-moderate drinking reduces heart disease, the new study found that alcohol use is more likely than not to do damage.”
As with this study and many polls, there are a whole lot of caveats associated with the findings. For example:
Age disparities and sizes of each grouping will impact results on just how important alcohol consumption was to the findings. In one finding, researchers assumed alcohol played a part in deaths even if the deaths weren’t primarily or even tangentially related to alcohol.
There are geographical disparities. “Among men, drinking alcohol at 2016 was most widespread in Denmark (97 percent), along with Norway, Argentina, Germany, and Poland (94 percent),” notes Griswold.
Gender will affect findings. Among women alcohol consumer, Danes rated first (95 percent), followed by Norway (91 percent), Germany and Argentina (90 percent), and New Zealand (89 percent).
The biggest drinkers identified geographically come from the Slavic countries-Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, etc.. Here we’re talking about women and men who eat more than 4 units per day of alcohol; that is important.
The top six sufferers of people who also consume alcohol are: high blood pressure, smoking, low-birth weight and early delivery, high blood sugar (diabetes), pollution and obesity. But aren’t those the exact same health culprits for men and women that do not consume alcoholic beverages? Griswold goes on to report,”a small beer, glass of wine or shot of spirits — per day, for instance, ups the odds of developing at least one of two dozen health issues by roughly half-a-percent.” The logic here is hard to follow to an unqualified conclusion!
To sum up, the Griswold study attributes 2.8 million premature deaths globally annually to booze. But they don’t specify the caveats relative to what the”pre-mature” category is based upon. As I pointed out earlier, it’s subjective when trying to account/factor-in for family health history, ethnicity, combination of beverages (beer, wine, spirits) seasonal issues, etc..
Just because we enjoy the findings of a particular study on alcohol, does not mean it’s a better study. That said, the next study titled: Moderate Drinking May Protect Your Health by Health Day and released by Newsmax on August 22, 2018. This study comprised 35,000 British and French taxpayers over ten years. But, where the French are involved in a study there ought to be consideration to diets. Remember another study from years ago brought into our lexicon the term”French Paradox”? At the time, that research turned all previous studies on their collective minds. Even then some investigators found fault with the study. (The French are noted for high fat in their diets, yet French had what most researchers believed to be healthy cardiovascular systems.)
In either study I am address in this article, there are always factors. Listed below are a few variables that can make alcohol intake studies, conducted several decades ago, irreverent:
Individuals turning to better exercise habits in certain parts of the world and not so in others. Again, this may impact study participants geographically.
Improved support systems for older adults due to retirement incomes, families, etc..
Reduced stress; some of that can be attributed to retirement.
Higher education levels.
Better observation and comprehension of family health history and adjusting to these variables in life-style changes.
Even the web makes information more accessible.
Changes in consumer preferences. There’s been a change to craft beers and spirits over the past 7 years.
The study titled (“Moderate Drinking May Protect Your Heart”) introduced another often-noted element to the benefits of alcohol. Relative to the heart, it was found that consistent and moderate consumption of alcohol was crucial. (This statement is not consistent with the first study.) Consistent and moderate drinking was the important element to getting the benefits of alcohol consumption.
General findings of this Health Day study are outlined:
Consistent drinking seems to diminish heart disease.
Retirement appears to be a factor in increase alcohol intake over the moderate category.
In the long term,”non-drinkers” heart risks were most noted amongst women.
Dr. Eugenia Gianos, who directs women’s heart health at Lennox Hill Hospital in NY says,”the jury is still out on the impact of moderate drinking on a person’s overall health.” But, Dr. Cathy Grines who directs department of cardiology at North Shore University Hospital at NY says,”the protective effects of alcohol went away if one did not drink the same amounts regularly.” “Many people believe that we are detoxing and helping ourselves by having periods of abstinence, but that (maybe) is a false assumption.”
We now have diametrical conflicting studies; must one be right and another wrong? There appears to be even opposing views from within the medical community. These are from primary care professionals who read the same studies as we read and are passing along lifestyle change recommendations to patients based on selected studies; possibly faulty studies. In regards to cardiologist, I have found some say there are several benefit to spirits and wine. Conversely, some physicians think alcohol elevates the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).
A large part of these studies appears to be based on empirical data. But this poses a problem:”If there are defects in the way that empirical data is gathered, the study won’t be regarded as valid,” state Ana Bradford in Life Science, July 27, 2017. By reading both of these studies I have said, as laymen, we really aren’t equipped to understand any amount of validity in either study.
I found it interesting that on virtually the exact same day, two reports regarding effects of alcohol on health were printed; one purporting that alcohol is totally bad and the other discussions about the benefits of alcohol to the heart. Bottom-line, everyone should consumer research but always remember, all research has flaws and as Dr. Grines states, you will find”flukes” in data. I believe there is more research on wine and wine related products than study that definitively say’s”moderate wine or alcohol reduces life expectancy that is natural”!
We probably shouldn’t trust poll-based research as a tool to produce life-style changes without understanding the protocols used. The more variables there are in the management groups the more we ought to be prone to be skepticism.