Will a drink a day kill you?

by | Recent Studies




Lately there are two reports circling the globe on the Internet.  One says an alcoholic drink a day will help you live longer, the other says a drink a day increases your risk to cancer.  Not sure who do believe?  I’m not sure either.  Here’s a tale of two drinks.

beer glass

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Will a glass a day kill you?

It was the best of beers…

In the March issue of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the study Functional Limitations, Socioeconomic Status, and All-Cause Mortality in Moderate Alcohol Drinkers (2009) found that moderate alcohol consumption reduced mortality rates significantly by 28% compared to those who abstain from alcohol.

The study followed more than 12,000 people aged 55 or older over the course of four years.  The researchers asked the subjects questions about their lifestyle including their alcohol habits, age, gender, race, smoking, and obesity.  They also took into account any comorbidities the individual might have.  The researchers then counted the people who died before December 31, 2006, and examined the different lifestyles in detail.

The researchers controlled for the various factors which could influence early death, and found moderate drinkers maintain their survival advantage even after adjustment for these factors.  This study suggests those who drink moderately live longer.

The researchers also found one drink or less per week had no advantage.  Most studies, including this one, show the “sweet spot” is one to two drinks per day.  Before you go out to hit the bars, the study also showed consuming three drinks or more per day increased your risk of death by 11%.

It was the worst of beers…

Now if you can remember way back to January of this year (a long time ago I know) you might remember the story floating around the Internet which said consuming one drink increased your risk for cancer.  This came from an expert report published in 2007 called WCRF/AICR Food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer: a Global Perspective by the World Cancer Research Fund.  The claim was extrapolated from the charts for bowel and liver cancer to estimate the risk associated with 2 units of alcohol.

This report reviewed thousands of leading research studies relating to cancer prevention.  For alcohol they looked at many different studies from around the world and compared the results to see how many showed an increase or decrease in specific cancers.  You can look at it as an “average” of all selected studies.  The report claims none of the studies showed statistically significant contradictory results. Most of the studies did adjust for drinkers who smoked.

The report claims “the evidence is that alcoholic drinks are a cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx; the oesophagus; the colorectum in men, and the breast; and probably of liver cancer and colorectal cancer in women”.  The report states “there is no significant evidence that alcohol protects against any cancer” and there is no safe amount of alcohol.  One drink a day can put you at risk.

Now what?

I’d normally tend to think there was some cherry picking in the expert report, but the report looks very solid.  Over 200 scientists around the world were involved in creating the report.  The results were assessed by a panel of 21 scientists who were supported by observers from the United Nations and other international organizations.  It’s hard to find fault when the work is so thorough.

On the other hand the results in the expert study were extremely one-sided.  There have been so many studies demonstrating the health benefits of wine it’s hard to believe none matched the World Cancer Research Fund’s criteria for quality.  While the first study came out much later than the expert report, I know this is not the first study touting the benefits from drinking alcohol.  Search for “red wine resveratrol” on Google and see how many studies there are!

The differences are most likely in the goals of the studies.  The first study looked at how alcohol influenced lifespan, while the second study looked at how alcohol influences cancer rates.  I guess you could say a person who drinks alcohol increases their risk to cancer, but they live longer.

What are your thoughts?  Will a drink a day kill you?


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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!