How much alcohol is safe? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should limit their consumption to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

Wine lovers, beer drinkers and those who enjoy a martini now and then have long been told that moderate drinking beats total abstinence.


New Research on How Much Alcohol is Safe


Advice on how much alcohol is safe may be changing in light of recent research.
New German research is throwing some cold water on that advice, finding that premature death among non-drinkers is likely the result of unrelated health problems that have little to do with the decision to forgo Chardonnay or Tanqueray.

“For many years, the belief in medical care was that low-to-moderate alcohol drinking may add to health, in particular to cardiovascular health,” said lead researcher Ulrich John.

Red wine in particular, he noted, has received a lot of attention for its purported ability to give moderate drinkers a longevity leg up over abstainers.

“This does not seem to be justified in the light of the present study,” said John, a professor emeritus of prevention research and social medicine with the Institute of Community Medicine at University Medicine Greifswald, in Germany.

Why? Because “the majority among abstainers seem to have severe risk factors in their life” that existed before any decision to not drink.


How New Study on Alcohol Consumption Was Conducted


In a report published online Nov. 2 in PLOS Medicine, John and his colleagues presented results of a survey on the effects of alcohol consumption:

• 4,000 German men and women, ages 18 to 64 years of age were interviewed between 1996 and 1997.

• All were asked to reveal their drinking habits in the preceding year, along with information about their overall health history, and alcohol and drug use.

• Death data were available from a follow-up 20 years later.

• Just over 11% said they had abstained from alcohol during the prior year.

• But about nine in 10 of them said they had been drinkers at one time, the findings showed.

• Nearly three-quarters had at least one major risk factor for early death, including risky alcohol consumption and tobacco use.

• Among abstainers, just over one-third said they had a prior alcohol abuse problem, while about half said they smoked daily, for instance. About 11% described their overall health status as “fair” or “poor.”

• The investigators also found that premature death from cancer or heart disease was no higher among the abstainers who had no other health risk factors than it was among low-to-moderate drinkers.


Researchers’ Analysis of Results of Alcohol Study


• We were surprised by the large proportion of those who had former alcohol or drug use disorders among the abstainers.

• But in the end the majority of alcohol abstainers had severe health risk factors that might explain the greater likelihood to die early, in contrast to the low-to-moderate drinkers.

• Advice: “Please do not drink alcohol for health reasons.” If a healthy life is the goal, he added, “the optimum is not to drink alcohol.”

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