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don’t drink alcohol, like at all

I have consumed very little alcohol in my life. It is not a religious issue. When I was a child, my father gave me a sip of beer and I was revolted. As I got older, the bitter taste of some alcoholic drinks no longer bothered me, but I had relatives who abused alcohol, so I stayed away. I am still a near teetotaler, but I try the occasional drink at social events.

So I always thought that, like many people and even health professionals, moderate alcohol consumption was safe. Then, recently, I read an article in Mother Jones that argues that there is serious evidence that alcohol is carcinogen. Some of it is political reporting in that it is about the alcohol industry’s response to the research, but it does raise a red flag.

For me, the most interesting passage from Stephanie Mencemer’s article was about the “J-curve” – the finding that moderate amounts of alcohol intake improve cardiovascular health. She reports that when people re-examined the data and excluded former drinkers from the data, the J-curve disappeared:

But this J-curve is deceptive. Not all the nondrinkers in these studies were teetotalers like the ones I grew up with in Utah. The British epidemiologist A. Gerald Shaper began a wide-ranging men’s heart health study in the late 1970s, and when he examined the data, he found that 71 percent of nondrinkers in the study were actually former drinkers who had quit. Some of these ex-drinking men were as likely to smoke as heavy drinkers. They had the highest rate of heart disease of any group and elevated rates of high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, diabetes, gallbladder disease, and even bronchitis. Shaper concluded that ex-drinkers were often sicker than heavy drinkers who hadn’t quit, making them a poor control group.

Yet for decades, researchers continued to include them and consequently found an implausible number of health benefits to moderate drinking, including lower rates of deafness and liver cirrhosis. The industry has helped promote these studies to doctors.

That’s one reason why, until recently, alcohol’s heart health benefits have been treated as incontrovertible science. But in the mid-2000s, Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a researcher at the University of California-San Francisco, decided to study Shaper’s ex-drinkers. When no one in the United States would fund her work, she persuaded Tim Stockwell, then the director of Australia’s National Drug Research Institute, to help her secure Australian government funding.

Stockwell and Fillmore analyzed decades’ worth of studies on alcohol and heart disease. Once they excluded studies with ex-drinkers—which was most of them—the heart benefits of alcohol largely disappeared. Since then, a host of other studies have found that drinking does not provide any heart benefits. (Some studies have found that drinking small amounts of alcohol—sometimes less than one drink per day—can be beneficial for certain people at risk of heart disease.) Robert Brewer, who runs an alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “Studies do not support that there are benefits of moderate drinking.” The Agriculture Department removed language suggesting that alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease in the most recent US Dietary Guidelines.

I think I’ll have the ginger ale.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 4, 2018 at 4:08 am

Posted in fabio, health, uncategorized

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