Is it healthy to drink alcohol or is it better not to drink at all?

Jan 12, 2023 | Current affairs, Featured, Post, Thursday Daily Bulletin, Tradition

After the Christmas hangover and the beginning of the year, it’s time for good resolutions. Among them is usually doing sport and having healthier habits. We have talked to several experts about the latest studies on alcohol consumption and its impact on health, as more and more people in Spain believe that it has some benefits when it is not real.

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Is it healthy to drink alcohol?

It is 9 o’clock in the morning, and the lab is absolutely silent. Rudolph Schutte is preparing a 70 % ethanol solution to disinfect the equipment when he suddenly looks up from his instruments and bursts out laughing. “It’s amazing, absolutely amazing, that we consume for fun the same substance we use to kill bacteria and viruses,” says the cardiovascular physiology and epidemiology expert from Anglia Riskun University (UK) himself.

He tells us the anecdote when asked about his latest studies on the effects of alcohol consumption on health and the myths about the cardiovascular protection surrounding this substance. “The hydroalcoholic gel that we have been using since the start of the covid-19 pandemic to disinfect hands is just that, alcohol, ethanol,” he says. And that ethanol not only destroys microorganisms: it destroys cells in general. “Clearly, we had to be brainwashed into believing that drinking alcohol would have any health benefits, don’t you think?

He has every reason to be astonished. For a start, alcohol is causally linked to more than 200 diseases and 6 types of cancer. But also because, globally, it is the third leading lifestyle-related risk factor with the highest burden of disease. And yet, the latest survey on drug use conducted in Spain by the Ministry of Health indicates that more and more people believe that drinking alcohol is healthy or part of a balanced diet.

Failed studies due to malpractice
One of the reasons why studies have so far produced confusing data on the true effects of alcohol, Schutte says, is that comparisons were made between abstainers and drinkers. “That was a problem because a large percentage of abstainers are abstainers because of health problems, which means they are actually a high-risk group, not a good control group,” he says. The good news is that this aspect of the studies has changed and the risk (or benefit) of alcohol consumption is often calculated by comparing occasional drinkers with moderate consumers. “And here it is already becoming clear that the relationship between alcohol consumption and health is linear,” says Schutte.

The latest survey on drug use in Spain indicates that more and more people believe that drinking alcohol is healthy or is part of a balanced diet.

Another malpractice that masked the harm of alcohol consumption was to mix all types of alcoholic beverages in epidemiological studies. “This has been done even though we know that the harmful effect of wine is much less than that of beer and other spirits,” regrets the researcher, who is not at all in favour of lumping them all together.

Added to this is the fact that, as far as cardiovascular health is concerned, until recently the focus of attention has been on the effects of drinking wine on the incidence of coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction. When extended to other vascular pathologies, the possible protective effects of alcohol disappear.

“There is a favourable association between alcohol from wine consumption and coronary health, which by the way I still don’t know how to explain, perhaps due to the popular revesratol,” says the scientist. “But the consumption of other alcoholic beverages has the opposite effect: it increases heart disease.

Better not to drink at all, and if at all, to drink as little as possible.
Schutte’s conclusion is clear: the recommended amount of alcohol should be zero. “My research indicates that even one or two pints of beer a day can be detrimental to health,” he says, referring to the study he has just published in the Journal of Hypertension based on a seven-year follow-up of 500,000 patients.

We are coming from a few years of confusing messages to the population that drinking one or two alcoholic drinks a day improves cardiovascular health”.