Past studies may have exaggerated the health benefits of alcohol, according to research published in the medical journal The BMJ.
The results of some previous studies have suggested that, compared with non-drinkers, moderate consumption may protect against cardiovascular disease and bring a longer life.
However, researchers now argue that health professionals should discourage alcohol intake, even at low levels, for health benefits.
They used data from the Health Survey for England, which asked participants about their lifestyle, health, and drinking habits, and found that any health benefits from alcohol may be limited to women aged 65 and over and to men aged 50-64 years.
Compared with never drinkers, protective associations were largely limited to men aged 50 to 64 years who reported consuming 15 to 20 units of alcohol on average per week or up to 1.5 units on the heaviest day.
For women aged 65 and over, the benefits were for those consuming 10 units or less on average per week.
Little to no health protection was found in other age groups, regardless of consumption level. The authors also stress that protective associations with the older subjects “may be explained by selection biases”.
In a linked editorial, Professor Mike Daube from Curtin University in Western Australia, welcomes the study as part of a growing body of evidence that alcohol is unlikely to offer any health benefits.
He argues that new evidence or health claims should be treated with great caution and health professionals should discourage alcohol intake.
He says the alcohol industry “should remove misleading references to health benefits from their information materials”.
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