Every few months we see the same headline come around. There are variations — themes on the original, slight divergences from the main idea — but the essential story sounds the same. The media reports that “Moderate drinking will save your life!”.
And, of course, because we all love a glass of bubbly, we clink our glasses and rejoice.
This story has been repeated recently, with the Daily Mail declaring that “Drinking a beer or glass of wine a day could PROTECT you from getting heart disease”, and dozens of other news sources picking up the charge as well. Based on a new study from Australia, the headlines appear to argue that you can improve your health with booze, in contrast to what we’ve all been told for years!
But, like all stories that sound too good to be true, the idea of moderate drinking and health is far more complex than it first appears. The reality is that, while alcoholic drinks can be delicious, they almost certainly aren’t going to save your life.
Let’s dig in.
Most, if not all, of these headlines are based on observational studies, where researchers take a large database of people and look at how much alcohol they report drinking, and then correlate that with their eventual chance of dying from various things later on. In this new study, the researchers looked at a group of people taking aspirin from an older trial, and examined the association between reporting different levels of alcohol intake with eventual death from heart disease about 5 years later. They found that the lowest-risk group were those who reported having a few standard drinks per week, after adjusting for common confounders like age and gender.
This is a pretty good first step — we know that age is strongly associated with death and…