The study that was a major buzzkill for drinkers
September 13, 2018
A few weeks ago, a study was released to the world that told us just how much alcohol we should be drinking in order to stay healthy. The amount? Zero. Or "none," as the researchers put it.
"Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none," the study stated.
This wasn't just a brief survey conducted at a mall or a college. According to an article in The Guardian, this research was the largest and most detailed to be conducted on the effects of alcohol.
The research was released on a Thursday in late August. The following weekend in Aspen (and probably throughout the rest of the country) it was business as usual at the restaurants, bars and clubs. Drinks were being served generously and we, the patrons, gratefully accepted them and poured them right down our throats.
This rather dramatic study is by the Global Burden of Diseases, and it was conducted at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. It attributes almost 3 million deaths across the globe in 2016 to alcohol use. These deaths include short term, or "communicable diseases," such as injuries (including those from transportation) and also "non-communicable diseases," or chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer. The study estimates that more than 2 billion people worldwide were drinkers in 2016. Out of that number, 63 percent were male.
To get this research, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation didn't conduct any new studies. They looked at more than 1,000 studies conducted between 1990 and 2016. These studies included millions of people and 195 countries.
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The takeaway message from all of this research seems to be that governments need to suggest lower levels of alcohol consumption. "These results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide," the study states.
For those who enjoy alcohol, this news is a bit of a buzzkill. Many studies have shown that a drink or two of wine or beer each day is supposed to be good for us. A glass of red wine? Well, it's great for the heart. A pint of beer? Same thing. We do it for the heart health (wink, wink). The study acknowledges that there may be some benefits for the heart from a daily drink, but said the risks far outweigh the benefits.
Now, to be fair, there was a decent amount of pushback on this study's results and overall message. Experts were critical because this is an observational study, meaning it didn't look at precise causes of disease, it looked at association of alcohol with disease. So there could be other factors besides alcohol consumption affecting people who are dying from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer. Stanford meta-researcher John Ioannidis, who was interviewed by Vox about this study and has also written papers critiquing nutritional studies in general, wrote this, "Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations." He said that singling out certain ingredients and pegging them to particular health outcomes can be "challenging, if not impossible."
Regardless of the exact particulars, it's not a secret that alcohol isn't exactly a health drink. It's also no secret that Coloradans, and valley residents in particular, enjoy consuming it. Based on research from the Center for Disease Control, compiled by 24/7 Wall St., Colorado is the 15th "drunkest state" in the country with 19.1 percent of adults drinking excessively (the national rate is 18 percent). And Aspen and Carbondale often come up in those silly listicles online as the biggest drinking cities/towns in the state. Even if we want to question those listicles, there's no doubt that drinking is prevalent in this valley because people come here for vacation. We're living in a destination resort that likes to party.
But I really don't think this study should have come as a surprise to anyone. We don't drink alcohol for its nutritional value. We drink it because we enjoy the way it tastes and how it makes us feel. We like that it makes dance moves a bit smoother and conversations slightly bolder. We appreciate how it pairs with our eggs benedict in the morning, our truffle fries at après and our filet mignon at dinner.
My point is that, as much as some of us may not want to think about it, alcohol is a large part of many of our lives. One study may not change our day to day, but it should be taken as evidence that what we're indulging in comes at a risk.
So, while it's easy to blame the study or critique the method, it's also important to listen to our own bodies and take the necessary measures to remain healthy. This doesn't mean we have to pour our booze down the drain or cancel happy hours with our buddies. It simply means that we should be aware of what we're consuming and how it can affect us.
Barbara Platts took this study to heart, but she still enjoys a nice glass of red wine from time to time. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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