Drinking Even This Much Every Day Can Harm Your Health, Study Says
According to new research, moderate drinking isn't as harmless as experts once believed.
You know that drinking alcohol in excess is something that puts you at a greater risk of developing serious health problems—stroke, heart disease, and cancer, to name a few. But you've also probably heard that drinking in moderation is a relatively innocuous habit. Some studies have even suggested that people who engage in light to moderate drinking are at a lower risk of things like heart disease and stroke compared with those who abstain from alcohol entirely. According to new research, however, that may not be quite as accurate as medical experts once believed.
In a June 2020 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers found that individuals who drink within the government's guidelines experienced more deaths and cancers than those who abstain from alcohol. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, moderate drinking is considered to be up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
To come to their conclusion, the study's authors gathered the records of all overnight hospital stays that occurred in British Columbia in 2014, analyzing deaths, diseases, and hospitalizations attributed to alcohol use. In addition, they used the Canadian Substance Use Exposure Database to help estimate levels and patterns of alcohol use by age and gender and then divided individuals into four groups: lifetime abstainers, people who used to drink but haven't had alcohol in at least a year, people who drink within the low-risk guidelines, and people who drink above the guidelines.
What they found was that 38 percent of the 2,000 alcohol-related deaths occurred in people who have given up alcohol or who drank within the government guidelines. Further, almost a third of the alcohol-related hospitalizations also came from within those two groups, as did more than half of the cancer deaths the researchers attributed to alcohol use.
Some doctors, it should be noted, questioned the validity of study's results, as the researchers did not factor in tobacco use and they tended to group former drinkers (who could have engaged in years of heavy drinking before they quit) with the low-risk drinkers in their findings.
"What bothered me most about this study was the cancer finding… because no other confounding factors were taken into account," Tiffany Sizemore-Ruiz, MD, a board certified cardiologist and medical advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council, told Healthline.
"Between 80 and 90 percent of alcoholics are also smokers," she said. "How do we know that the alcohol caused a given cancer, and not smoking, genetics, family history, and so forth? If you look at all cancers the researchers attribute to alcohol, they're also attributable to smoking."
However, this isn't the only recent evidence suggesting that even moderate drinking is harmful for your health. A 2018 study published in The Lancet found that "the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of [alcohol] consumption, and the level of consumption that minimizes health loss is zero."
A separate 2019 study, also published in The Lancet, that looked at 500,000 men and women over the course of 10 years found that "the apparently protective effects of moderate alcohol intake against stroke are largely non-causal. Alcohol consumption uniformly increases blood pressure and stroke risk, and appears in this one study to have little net effect on the risk of myocardial infarction." And for more unhealthy habits to kick, check out 40 Tiny Health Adjustments That Can Change Your Life After 40.