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Two Drinks A Day May Not Keep The Doctor Away

Two Drinks A Day May Not Keep The Doctor Away

6 November 2007, New Zealand Drug Foundation

It may be a myth that moderate drinking is good for the heart, says Dr Graham Gulbransen, of Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS), Auckland.

Speaking to the Cutting Edge Addiction Conference in Auckland today, Dr Gulbransen said the convenient and widely held belief that a few drinks are good for the heart is based largely on studies of dubious value.

"Recent studies have found that teetotallers may be at no greater risk than light drinkers, and there are real weaknesses in studies suggesting moderate drinking is good for you.

"Past studies have tended to involve only one social group, and have lacked comparative controls. Seventh Day Adventists, for example, may well enjoy better health, but is that because they drink less, or because of other factors peculiar to them as a group?"

Dr Gulbransen said recent large studies have found that moderate drinkers probably do other things in moderation as well, which causes them to avoid many health risks.

"Moderate drinking may therefore be a characteristic of a healthy person, rather than a cause of their good health."

He said the only comparative studies indicating benefits to moderate alcohol intake have been done with animals such as chickens and rabbits, and the small health benefits they indicated pale in comparison to those arising from good diet, exercise, and not smoking.

"I advise my patients that two drinks per day are unlikely to be harmful, but I would never encourage a non-drinker to start drinking moderately for health reasons. There just isn't any certain evidence that this would be good for them."

While the benefits of a drink or two a day may be uncertain, the relationship between heavy drinking and heart disease is much clearer, with binge drinking being particularly damaging.

New Zealand studies show, for example, that those who binge-drink suffer a higher burden of disease as a result.

"The more you drink, the more likely you are to have coronary calcification, a strong predictor of heart disease," Dr Gulbransen said. "Heavy or binge drinkers are more than twice as likely to die if they have a heart attack."

In New Zealand 10g of alcohol is called a standard drink. The Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand guidelines define safe or moderate drinking as up to 20 grams of alcohol daily for women and 30 grams for men.

However, about 20 percent of New Zealand men and 10 percent of women report risky or dangerous drinking in excess of these recommendations. Estimates are that around 4 percent of New Zealand deaths are alcohol-related, mainly from car accidents and other injuries.


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