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A glass of wine a day won't keep the doctor at bay, finds B.C. study

A new University of Victoria-led study has found no health benefits from moderate drinking.

A new University of Victoria-led international study has found that previous studies have overestimated the possible benefits of moderate drinking and underestimated its health risks.

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A new University of Victoria-led international study has found that previous studies have overestimated the possible benefits of moderate drinking and underestimated its health risks.

Think a glass of red wine a day will keep the doctor at bay? Think again, suggests new research from the University of Victoria. 

Although many studies have lauded the benefits of moderate drinking, from a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, to better immunity against colds, a new paper has found previous research overestimated those benefits and underestimated the risks of alcohol use. 

“I wish it were true,” Tim Stockwell, director UVic's Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia and the study's lead author, said with a laugh. “I like a drink and I wish it did me good … But there's various grounds for skepticism, unfortunately.” 

For the study, Stockwell and his colleagues reanalyzed data from 87 long-term studies on alcohol use and mortality, involving a total of nearly four million people. 

At first, the data showed that “low-volume drinkers” (those who had up to two drinks a day) had lower mortality risks than those who abstained from alcohol. They also found that “occasional drinkers” (people who consume less than one drink a week) live the longest. 

But after looking at the quality of each study and adjusting for errors, the researchers found that the protective effect of light drinking vanished. 

The study builds on a landmark 2006 study also co-authored by Stockwell that found most published studies on alcohol use and mortality make the mistake of comparing moderate drinkers to those who currently abstain. 

“We know from other studies that, as we age, people in developed countries tend to cut down or stop completely their drinking,” he said. 

Since current abstainers include many people who have cut down or cut out alcohol due to poor health, that skews the data by making the health and life expectancy of moderate drinkers look good by comparison, he said. 

He said the paper's findings suggest that improved methods are needed for scientists to study the health effects of alcohol. Following the 2006 study, Stockwell and his colleagues could only find 13 studies out of 87 that adjusted for these errors. 

"The bottom line is that we need to be more skeptical of claims that low-volume alcohol consumption is good for you, and a take a long, hard look at how studies around alcohol and health are designed," he said.

Improving the research could have a significant impact on both alcohol policies, as well as guidance that physicians give to patients about low-risk drinking, he said.

Stockwell's advice?

“If you like a glass of wine a day, it's probably not doing you much harm if you enjoy it,” he said. “Do it for the pleasure but do not believe or comfort yourself by thinking it's good for your health.”

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