There is no safe level of alcohol consumption!

On August 23, 2018 The Lancet, a leading prestigious and scientific journal originating in the UK published a landmark study of great importance on the topic of alcohol use. It integrates and appears to do some new data analysis from 694 data sources over a 26-year period from 195 locations around the globe. This is the first global, integrated meta data analysis that we have seen on alcohol use. The methodology is strong and they improved the analysis others had done when they could use original data.

Their conclusions are ground breaking and should be definitive in world health. Among the major findings are:

  1. Alcohol is a major factor in global mortality and disease burden and the highest risk factor for those for those aged 19-45.
  2. All-cause mortality was associated with any level of alcohol use.
  3. Risk of many types of cancers increased with any level of alcohol use.
  4. The authors confirmed that there was no safe level of alcohol use! The level of alcohol intake that most reduces mortality risks is “zero” intake.
  5. The chart on page 11 of the article clearly shows that even a half a glass of alcohol beverage a day has a measurable impact on increased mortality.
  6. Any cardiac health benefits from low-level alcohol use is far outweighed by increased cancer risks and many specific types of cardiac risks.
  7. The authors note, “These results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption.” This has huge implications for policy and public health approaches that must be changed despite the vested interests of the massively profitable and influential alcohol industry. 

This study really confirms that for over 150 years, the Adventist Health Message does so much to enhance quality and length of life!

The number of voices in the scientific literature raising questions and caution regarding the widespread perception that moderate alcohol use is beneficial to health has achieved robust credibility. Although there are many papers and studies supporting the cardio-protective effect of alcohol (moderate drinking), this hypothesis is by no means definitive. Marchand, et al, emphasize the many problems of studies of alcohol use include confounding, risk of abuse and dependence, methodological issues relating to assessing dosing, level and duration of use over the life course and non-representativeness of study populations in reaching this conclusion(1). There is also great concern about the diversity that exists among nondrinkers. Nondrinkers represent a very diverse group adding to the confounding and there is a need to study variation in this group. This lat).st meta-analysis of global data published in the Lancet confirms other commentaries on the limitations of the evidence for a beneficial effect for moderate alcohol consumption that have concluded, “the evidence for the harmful effects of alcohol is undoubtedly stronger than the evidence for beneficial effects (2).

In summary:

  • Alcohol is a widely used commodity
  • It is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease burden
  • Alcohol use places a burden on families, including a strong association with domestic violence
  • Alcohol use can be addictive
  • Alcohol use exacts high costs from society through associated crime and violence
  • Moderate alcohol use is reported in the literature to have a cardio-protective quality, but the purported health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption are not applicable across age, ethnic and gender variations.
  • Any apparent cardiac benefits are far outweighed by increases in cancer risks as well as specific types of cardio-vascular risks such as strokes.
  • The most vulnerable for alcohol use consequences are those aged 19 through 45 years; it is mandatory to get the facts to youth and younger adults.  
  • Moderate drinking is associated with many-documented negative health, behavioral and spiritual effects.
  • Alcohol is a known carcinogen and there is no safe level of alcohol intake that is known that may avoid this dreaded health complication; it is now scientifically clear that the safe level of use is “zero”.

Conclusion

Taking into account the significant health risks related to alcohol use, there is no scientific basis for promoting its use for the sake of heart health. This is especially so when there are proven and safe interventions for heart disease prevention and rehabilitation, including exercise, a healthful diet and non-addictive, tested medications where needed.

We sometimes persist in trawling the shark-infested waters of the definite evidence showing the dangers of alcohol use in search of one sardine’s worth of positive, healthful evidence in favor of alcohol use. There are lifestyle choices and measures which offer protection against the problems alcohol inevitably brings in its wake: informed choices, exercise, rest, healthful eating, fresh air, sunshine, pure water (within and without), trust in God, social support, a good dose of optimism, and of course, temperance. By definition, temperance encourages us to use wisely those things that are healthful and good, and to dispense entirely with all things harmful. Temperance, lived through the enabling power of our gracious Lord Jesus Christ, serves as a foundation for a Spirit-filled experience that can celebrate life free from alcohol and its attendant ills.

     So, should people who don’t drink alcohol start to use it? Based on the best scientificevidence, definitely not! Should those who currently drink alcohol quit? Based on the same evidence, unequivocally yes!

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1. Marchand, Alain, Andree Demers, Pierre Durand, et al “The Moderating effect of alcohol intake on the relationship between work strains and psychological distress.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 419-427 (2003)

2. Fekjaer, Hans Olav. “Alcohol-a universal preventive agent? A critical analysis.” Addiction. Jan 8 (2013)  [Epub ahead of print]