Ho, Ho, Ho – Drinking Alcohol

December 4, 2018 in Foodland, Health, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

Since August, I’ve been meaning to write about a study published in Lancet, Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The study has been sitting on my desktop, staring at me for all these weeks/months. Procrastination is not generally one of my temptations – I recognize, however, the fact that I’m a teetotaler as being at the very base of dragging my feet. I realize that there is groundbreaking new research being publicized, that may be an important impact for decisions of vast numbers of persons who want to protect their health; but I worry that I will be seen as biased. Now having written the preceding words, I must share a fact; that to the very marrow of my bones, I care for public’s health. So as conflicted as I might feel, I’ve finally made the difficult decision to tackle this subject once again. It wasn’t easy the first time on April 14, 2018 (Drinking Alcohol in the News – Is It Ever!); and for some unknown reason, it’s not any easier this time. I’ll share a quick review of the study published in August; but be sure, you’re the one making the decisions. Let me just share one more bit of interest in this research before I start. Max Griswold, the senior author of the study and researcher from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is quoted as saying that he still drinks alcohol; but “Not as much, after this study.” So for what it’s worth, let’s just review a tad of what’s known.

It’s very advantageous that you can access the Lance study, the largest alcohol study to date, and read the detail of the gigantic study yourself. You may be as astonished as I was to read the number of researchers and institutions involved; not to mention, the populations and individuals it represents. It’s bigger than big! Another thing that I want to draw your attention to is that they looked at not only deaths, but in addition, the DALY (disability-adjusted life year – a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.) The database was built from more than a thousand alcohol studies and data sources from 195 countries. They were not looking narrowly at a single disease; but at 23 health problems. The unexpected number that popped up in the end was zero. More drinks than zero was associated with health risks. The biggest surprise is that no amount of drinking is good for you.

Although the researchers concluded “People should no longer think that a drink or two a day is good for you.” And what’s best is, “…to not drink at all.” If you read the entire research, however, you discover that the risk for one drink a day only increases the risk of the 23 conditions associated with alcohol intake by 0.5 percent (a very small increase in risk). But to be sure, two drinks a day, increase risk by 7 percent and five drinks a day, by 37 percent. So dose response is alive and well. One bit of information that I noticed in the study is that the American standard for one drink is 14 grams of pure ethanol and the study considered a drink 10 grams. That should be a heads up for you if you’re trying to drink as safely as possible. So the advice would be to keep the total weekly intake below 70 grams or 5 drinks a week.

There may be a lower risk of heart disease from moderate drinking and possibly a lower rate of diabetes in women, but this new study found that the other health risks offset and overwhelmed those health benefits. Among the risks are increased breast cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, larynx and mount cancer, stroke, cirrhosis, tuberculosis, interpersonal violence, self-harm and transportation accidents. If that is not enough to motivate us not to drink too much, maybe the fact that drinking too much alcohol is correlated with memory loss and dementia would be enough to motivate us.

Well, this leads me to realize that I can no longer in all good conscience share advice for men to have fewer than two drinks per day and women one drink a day. It’s been common public health advice for decades; but the small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related problems.

If you want to use an entire list of resources that may be helpful to you in making personal decisions about your drinking, there’s a wonderful set of calculators available on the National Institute of Health’s sites:


I’m sharing my best wishes for a ho, ho, ho, happy, healthy and safe holiday.