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Even one drink is harmful? That’s just bad science

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Even one glass of alcohol is supposed to be bad for us—but those dire warnings have been based on flawed research.

In fact, moderate drinking won’t do us any harm, and may even be good for our heart, new research has confirmed.

The prevailing wisdom that the occasional drink helped the cardiovascular system was overturned by a study in 2019 that concluded that even one drink could be harmful, raising our blood pressure and increasing our stroke risk.

But researchers from University College London have put a slide rule against the original data and found the conclusions were wrong.  Usually, research into the impact of alcohol on our health produces a J shape.  In other words, people who don’t drink at all have a higher risk of heart disease than those who drink moderately, and then the risk starts to rise again as people drink more, with excessive drinkers being at the highest risk.

The UCL researchers couldn’t see a J shape when they ran the original data that fuelled the 2019 study, produced by Oxford University, which suggests that it was flawed.  In that study, the researchers had compared drinkers against another group that were genetically unable to drink.

Sir Nicholas Wald, one of the UCL researchers, said: “The occasional glass of wine every other day would be acceptable. . .you don’t have to feel that the only safe alcohol intake is zero.”

While we don’t need to abstain, their research still advocates moderate drinking of around 14 units of alcohol a week, which translates into six pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine.

(Source: International Journal of Epidemiology, 2021; dyab162; doi: 10.1093/ije/dyab162)

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