Drinkers have long toasted the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, but a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today pours doubt over the protective effects of alcohol.
The study challenges the prevailing claims moderate drinking is good for your health and reveals any protective benefits from moderate alcohol consumption have been overestimated or exaggerated by previous research.
One of the authors of the study, Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney, said the research had important public health implications given alcohol consumption for Australians across all ages is still very high.
'A large number of studies have suggested that moderate consumption of alcohol may protect against cardiovascular disease and this has become accepted wisdom," Associate Professor Stamatakis said.
'The prevailing message to drinkers has been don't feel guilty about drinking a few glasses of vino after work each night: a regular dose of alcohol is better for you than none at all.
'But this new research sheds doubt on the belief that alcohol has robust benefits and there is a -healthy' dose.
'Our research reveals that the protective effects of light drinking that have been widely reported may be exaggerated because the claims are based on studies that have included the inappropriate use of non-drinkers, regardless of the abstinence reason as a comparator and other -selection biases'.
'Our study found that once ex-drinkers - who may have quit due to alcohol-related health issues or abstain due to poor health in general - were removed from the pool of non-drinkers, the protective benefits of alcohol for moderate drinkers virtually disappeared and there was little to no protection provided by alcohol consumption at any level."
Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Faculty of Health Sciences and University's Charles Perkins Centre said while the study does not answer the question as to whether people should imbibe or completely abstain when it comes to drinking, it does highlight the importance of other health-promoting and disease risk minimisation strategies for better health.
'The message from this study is Australians should not use claims of alcohol's health benefits as a license to drink and the alcohol industry should not use health-related messages to promote its products," Associate Professor Stamatakis said.
'Australians looking to improve their health should adopt more effective health and wellbeing-promoting strategies like being physically active in their everyday life or adopting regular exercise, rather than take up drinking."
The study explored the association between alcohol consumption and mortality in different age groups to determine the suitability of age specific alcohol limits and explored different ways of defining -non-drinkers'.
Read the full study published online in the BMJ.