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Never mind: moderate drinking isn’t good for your health after all

Article

Researchers find results of many previous studies were skewed by internal biases

A new study contains bad news for people who think moderate alcohol drinking won’t harm their health, and might even help it. It turns out that much of the research underlying those beliefs is flawed.

A team of researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 107 previous studies of alcohol consumption involving more than 4.8 million participants to examine the connection between daily alcohol consumption and deaths from any cause. They found no significant decrease in the risk of death among people who drank less than 25 grams (about .9 ounces) per day compared with non-drinkers, and a “significantly increased risk” among women who drank .9 ounces daily or more, and men who drank 45 grams (about 1.6 ounces) per day.

These findings differ from those of the studies they analyzed in that previous studies purporting to demonstrate health-protecting effects from moderate drinking often contained “systematic biases.” For example:

  • Light and moderate drinkers are usually healthier than current non-drinkers on numerous health indicators not related to alcohol use, such as dental hygiene, weight, and income,
  • People who are lifetime abstainers may have chosen not to drink due to poorer health,
  • Many previous studies included “sick quitters”—people who reduced or stopped their drinking for health reasons—in the abstainer reference groups
  • Most previous studies over-represented older white men

Through the use of statistical software, the authors say, they were able to adjust for many of the confounding effects, or biases, built into the studies included in their meta-study.

The study, “Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analyses” was published March 31, 2023 on JAMA Network Open.

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