Fumbling The Ball At Goal-line (Thoughts On The 2018 Lancet Alcohol Study)

Recently, an examination of a rather large data set of studies (we’re talking nearly 200 countries, and over 690 pieces of work involving millions of people) was published in Lancet, and most of my alcohol-loving friends just about lost their sh*t.

The reason for the theoretical emergency bowel-vacating stemmed from media coverage of one of the Lancet study’s late conclusions, and the one harpooned by the media and shared pretty much everywhere (emphasis mine):

“Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for disease burden worldwide, accounting for nearly 10% of global deaths among populations aged 15–49 years, and poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today. The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

That pithy little emphasized sentence above is the scientific equivalent of constructing a late-game, come-from-behind, potentially-game-winning NFL drive that started on your team’s own ten-yard line, culminating in a 3rd-and-long breakout run during which your guys fumble the f*cking ball at the goal-line and emerge with a heartbreaking loss. This is because there is a wealth of health-related insight that could come out of the Lancet study, and they chose to focus on the one aspect that the data don’t actually support directly; that conclusion is controversial at best, and is only loosely inferred from the analysis, based on the facts and results cited in the very study itself.

Bear in mind that alcohol constitutes an inordinate amount of the professional and leisure portions of my existence on this planet, which is why instead of trying to make that case myself in my own (not-so-)potentially biased way, I’ll instead refer you to Vox, who have already (splendidly) done that for me

Vox’s Julia Belluz has executed a well-researched and thoughtfully-entertaining takedown of the recent Lancet study, and it’s well worth a read, especially if you’re among the paints-soiling numbers who kind of freaked out about not being able to drink ever again.

This quote in particular from the Vox article needs a spotlight, as it brings a statistical numbers focus to the results and effectively acts as the article’s TLDR summary:

“…statistician David Spiegelhalter estimated that 25,000 people would need to drink 400,000 bottles of gin to experience one extra health problem compared to non-drinkers, ‘which indicates a rather low level of harm in these occasional drinkers.’

…the difference in health risk between those who drink nothing and those who have one daily drink is tiny — and, given the weak observational research it’s based on, potentially not meaningful.”

My slightly longer, but still abbreviated take involves this little summary results graph from the Lancet study (again, emphasis is mine):

Jump to conclusions, much? (image: TheLancet.com)

As you can see above, the difference in cumulative relative health risks between having zero drinks and having one drink daily is reeeeeaaaalllly small. In fact, statistically it could be argued that the difference is within error margins; in other words, it’s almost zero.

Are you technically safer having no alcohol? Based on the Lancet study, yes, technically you are. Just like you’re technically safer not having any sun exposure whatsoever, never crossing the street, never driving a car, never taking a plane flight, never doing weed…

But if you want to play the statistical numbers, all things being equal health-wise you’re no worse off drinking in moderation than you are not drinking at all. And that conclusion is more-or-less just as valid based on the findings of the Lancet study as their conclusion that you should never drink if you want to reduce your overall health risk.

What this study does do a great job of underscoring, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the relative health danger of regular, immoderate/excessive drinking, which is undeniably a major worldwide issue right now and a substantial burden on our global economy and mental, social, and physical well-being. But focusing on moderate, responsible drinking as a problem – based on these data – is a bit like saying that we need to be careful about our water intake because too much of it can kill you…


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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Fumbling The Ball At Goal-line (Thoughts On The 2018 Lancet Alcohol Study) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Talking Fun Wine Facts For MyFitnessRx.net

Another quick-hit this week to let you know that I was recently a guest on MyFitnessRx.net‘s Running episode, talking about some recent fun/interesting health-related facts/studies pertaining to our favorite adult libation.

You can check out the specific segment in the embed below. Here’s how you can check out the My Fitness Rx show on  a regular basis:

Wine Facts, Running – e9


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Talking Red Wine And Health For MyFitnessRx.net

Last week, MyFitnessRx.net aired a segment featuring yours truly, waxing all dime-store-philosophical like about the healthy heart benefits of red wine consumption (in moderation, you lushes!). Green screens and open bottles of wine FTW!

My brief segment with show host Tanya Stroh is below; you can check out the full episode as well. If you find yourself among the healthily-inclined, here are some details on how you can binge on past and future episodes of the show:


Red Wine, A Healthy Heart


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Alcohol Probably Isn’t Good For You (But Don’t Start Crying Just Yet)

Recently, a 1WD reader wrote in to ask me what I thought about the recent spate of news indicating that alcohol is bad for your health. Here’s his initial correspondence, which he gave me permission to share with you all:

Hey, Dude,
I was reading a few articles in Decanter for class when I came across one (admittedly attention-grabbing) article. The UK’s equivalent of the Surgeon General has apparently decided there’s “no safe level of drinking”. She has also cut the guideline maximum for men weekly to 14 units (a unit is approximately 2.5 US fluid ounces of 13% abv wine). Here is the article: http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/uk-alcohol-guidelines-no-safe-drinking-level-as-daily-limit-cut-287142/.

To put it mildly, I think this is complete and utter bullshit. It’s not that I think moderate alcohol consumption is bad–far from it. Indeed, I think there are people who should try to avoid alcohol completely, including those who have no control over their own drinking whatsoever. However, from what I’ve read over the years, there is a “J-shaped curve” associated with various diseases (particularly coronary-related) and alcohol consumption. A quick internet search led me to this for cardiovascular health: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/562474_2, and WineAnorak had this for other benefits: http://www.wineanorak.com/healother.htm.

While there are health risks associated with alcohol use, as well, including oesophageal cancers, there are health risks associated with nearly everything. Taking a stroll after work is healthy, for example, but there’s a risk I could get hit by a car, or get hypothermia or heat stroke (depending on the weather), or bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus. Even hiding at home trying to avoid all risks of mortality doesn’t rule out dying of various things, such as unexpected meteor impact, heart attack from a combination of lack of exercise and stress from perceived impending doom, or starvation since I’d run out of groceries eventually if I refuse to leave the house. Paranoia to that extent is almost reason to cause someone to drink.

Sorry about that rant. I read that article and it riled me up; I felt it would be something I’d love to hear your opinion and commentary on, as well.

In a follow-up correspondence, he had this to add about the subject:

In Decanter, Andrew Jefford also wrote an interesting article about the topic: http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/opinion/jefford-on-monday/jefford-on-monday-uk-drinking-limits-toxic-advice-287989/.
 I read another two studies about raised breast cancer risks from light-to-moderate alcohol usage as compared to abstinence this last week.  One was a study of about 48000 people from the 1980s to 2010.  The other was a meta-study.  Both found an approximately 10% risk of breast cancer in abstainers, and an approximately 12.5% risk in light-to-moderate drinkers. I didn’t see anything about mortality, metastasizing, or recurrence.  It didn’t seem that other risk factors besides smoking were necessarily controlled for.  I’ll have to use some Google-fu to find them again, but though neither was precisely friendly towards alcohol, what I understood from their conclusions was essentially, “There’s a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer from drinking alcohol.  It’s not much to worry about, but if you are paranoid, you can stop drinking.”
Now, bearing in mind that, to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor I are medical professionals, here’s my take on all of this…

Alcohol is almost certainly not good for you.
Seriously, it’s not. You don’t increase your life span by drinking the way that you might from eating blueberries and carrots. But that doesn’t mean that it is going to kill you, either.
From what I’ve been able to discern in following developments on this topic for years, alcohol probably has some minor health benefits when consumed in moderation, but it comes with a host of potential health risks (cancers, digestive issues, liver problems, etc.), almost all of which can be fatal, and almost all of which are associated with consuming it in excess.
However, I am personally not afraid of consuming alcohol. Unlike smoking, which by most measures is likely to kill you if you use it as directed, just about every study on alcohol performed to date suggests that moderate, responsible consumption of alcohol is unlikely to kill you dead.
None of the recent news regarding alcohol health risks has me scrambling to dump all of my wine samples down the drain. I still abstain from drinking any alcohol at least two nights per week, and have been thinking about increasing that, only because I want to have a balanced life and reduce my risk of the negative health-related potential side effects of drinking; none of that is being done because I think that alcohol is anywhere close to ruining my health or life, however.
From what I have been able to discern, from a health perspective I need to be much more worried about, say, making sure my radon fan is working properly than whether or not having a couple of glasses a wine on most nights is going to put me into the grave. If I didn’t exercise regularly, didn’t eat as healthily as time/money/opportunity allows, and was a smoker, cutting back moderate drinking levels would be the last thing on my list of potentially life-saving improvements.
We take a risk of dying whenever we walk out of the door and drive in our cars. That doesn’t stop us (or all of the other idiots behind the wheel) from driving. You take a risk when you drink booze, but the binge drinking epidemic in the UK notwithstanding, I think it’s a disservice to the public at large to proclaim that risk to be on par with pest poisons, or even hydrogenated oils.
I’ll still be drinking in moderation, in full sight of my daughter, who I hope will see her old man live a long, happy life, and one in which responsible alcohol consumption has a routine place.

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