Some scientists doubt moderate drinking is good for you

I think this article in the New York Times bears some discussion.    To sum up:

No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death — only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.

I have a few points to make.

1)Anybody who tries to explain to a non-member the Word of Wisdom using scientific evidence is heading down a dead end street.  Inevitably you will get to questions like, “do you really think there is something wrong with having one glass of wine with dinner?” and “why can Mormons drink Coke, which has caffeine, and not coffee, which also has caffeine?”  It seems to me the only acceptable explanation for the Word of Wisdom is, “it is a question of faith in my religion, and I try to be honest and follows what the religion says, and it says I should not drink alcohol or coffee or black tea, so I don’t do those things.  It is faith, not science.”

2)Now, having said that, I have always felt the “moderate drinking is good for you” argument is completely bogus.  You can get anti-oxidants from blueberries and grape juice — you don’t need wine.  As the article says, many of these studies that say moderate drinking is good for you are financed by the alcohol industry.  Does this sound like the tobacco industry, anyone?

3)It is my personal experience (and I was a drinker for many years before I was baptized, and I still spend a lot of time at work around drinkers) that there are really very few “moderate drinkers” who are always moderate drinkers.  What I mean by this is that most “moderate drinkers” will tie one on during special occasions, which seem to happen fairly often.  The phenomenon of the person who has one glass of wine with dinner — and only one glass of wine with dinner —  is extremely rare in my experience.   Your experience may be different — that’s cool, my friend, no problem.  But I have spent almost three decades around drinkers, and I have known thousands of them, and I can only think of a handful who only have one glass of wine with dinner.  I certainly was not a moderate drinker when I drank alcohol.

4)Now having said what I say in 3, I would like to point out that the people I have known who drink the least are the ones who are the healthiest overall.  So, the article’s claim that moderate drinking (true moderate drinking) and good health are tied together is true in my experience.   Of course, my experience is also that teetotalers are the healthiest of all, but only if they have an overall healthy outlook.  We all know members of our wards who don’t drink but who are 150 pounds overweight and eat sweets all day long and are about to get diabetes which in case you already suffer, we recommend to check this ebook.  But we also know people who are in good shape overall and really are quite healthy (I think of Pres. Hinckley as a good example).

Any other thoughts?

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

20 thoughts on “Some scientists doubt moderate drinking is good for you

  1. Interesting post, Geoff.

    I am always leary of the multitude of studies that come out touting one food or beverage’s virtues, only to be disproven or disputed sometime down the road. Moderation is the key, I think, to any food or beverage.

    Obviously, as Latter-Day Saints, we are taught to avoid alcohol, but as you mentioned, some of us exchange alcohol for junk food with the obesity that often follows a diet filled with junk and an often sedentary lifestyle.

  2. I completely agree with the idea that scientific evidence won’t confirm the WoW; I remember, as a teenager, finding it absolutely confirming when a study was discussed talking about the dangers of alcohol, coffee, or whatever. But those studies will be reversed. And frankly, there probably isn’t a significant health risk to moderate drinking or to drinking coffee or tea, any more than there is to eating a moderate amount of bacon. I like your honesty angle; I like to think of it as a manifestation of covenant. It wouldn’t matter if it were definitively proven that a glass of wine a day would causally make me healthier and live an additional five years–I made a covenant and keep it because of faith, rather than health.

    That said, I actually do know a number of people who are legitimately moderate drinkers. In my experience, they tend to be slightly older and more likely to be married and/or have kids. My friends who are younger and single are more likely to party at least occasionally. But that’s purely anecdotal and, for the most part, my friends don’t talk to me about their drinking habits, so I could also be wrong.

  3. Sam B and others,

    Defining “moderate” is obviously subjective. I had a friend who drank 10-12 British pints of beer a night, and he considered himself a “moderate” drinker because most of his stumbling drunk friends drank 18-20 pints a night. (A British pint is 20 oz — imagine that, at least 200 oz of beer a night!)

    If we take the studies of “moderate drinking is good for you” at face value, what they are saying is that one or two glasses of wine or one or two beers maximum is considered “moderate.” What that means is that if you have one or two glasses of wine or one or two beers but almost never have more than that. In my vast experience in the drinking world, that is a very rare thing. Yes, there are lots of people who only have one or two drinks when they go out to dinner and then have to drive home. But then a week later, Joe is having a party and all of the sudden they have down six or seven drinks. That is by far the norm among the drinkers I know. Again, your experience may be different — more power to you, no harm, no foul, no offense intended — just sharing my experiences.

  4. Geoff,
    I don’t mean to disagree at all–I know a number of people who are the glass-of-wine-at-dinner types who rarely (if ever) drink more than that. And, of course, I know people who get plastered every weekend. But my friends seem largely to be aging out of the getting-plastered demographic.

    I really don’t mean to be disagreeable–I have little doubt that you are correct that most people who drink are not moderate drinkers, which is itself a harm of drinking (that is, even if moderate drinking is healthy, heavy drinking is clearly not, and most people can’t or don’t seem to hold to the moderate side of that line). I am saying that moderate drinking is possible but that, like you, even if it were clearly proven to be healthier AND I were completely confident that I would stick to the moderate side of things, the health benefits wouldn’t play any part in my decision not to drink.

    (Although I have to say I was amused at the thought in the article of taking non-drinkers and giving some a dose of alcohol and others a dose of some placebo. It struck me as really funny for some reason.)

  5. Sam B, I think we basically agree, except we probably have had different experiences. You would be amazed and scared to know how many friends and co-workers I have who think 10-12 beers a night is no big deal.

  6. You make good points. I think an additional point that should be made is that while the studies do not show that drinking will make you healthier, at the same time they do indicate that the occasional drink will not make you unhealthy. Or, to use the article’s wording, No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and higher risk of death.

  7. BrianJ, I don’t think we should fall into the trap of somehow thinking that somebody who has a drink or two a day is killing themselves. On the other hand, we should be very aware that, for many, many people, a drink or two easily becomes a lot more than that.

  8. Pingback: Whaa?!?!?! “Some scientists doubt moderate drinking is good for you” | A Soft Answer

  9. The studies that have seen a positive benefit in one glass of wine with dinner have been focused on heart and circulatory health. They ignore the fact that alcohol carries an increased risk of cancer; some discussions I have seen have concluded that the risk of premature death from heart disease versus from cancer balances out at one drink per day, but gets bad with more consumption.

    Additionally, the studies do not consider risk of death or injury from traffic accidents when driving, where even “moderate” amounts can slow one’s judgment and ability to respond to emergencies.

    The bottom line for me is this: Any policy encouraging alcohol consumption has to recognize that a certain percentage of the population has a propensity to become addicted to alcohol, which will mean increased consumption with all of the health risks from cancer, liver disease, accidents, bad judgment, violence, etc. While one drink a day may benefit many in society from a heart disease standpoint (and ignoring the countervailing risk of cancer), there is a definite minority of people who would suffere debilitating effects, along with their families and, if they drive, the people they injure while driving. I may reduce my risk of heart disease a bit, but is it worth a member of my family, or one of my neighbors or coworkers being an alcoholic? Is it worth myself becoming that alcoholic? It seems to me that any policy that encourages alcohol consumption by the general public is inherently callous about the people who will be destroyed by that policy. Plenty of societies through time have been fatalistic about such consequences, but they also would not have been looking for health benefits from drinking alcohol. The attitude that my heart health is more important than the relatively few people whose lives get ruined is worse than the old attitude, because the new attitude is a cold calculation of risk and intentionally chooses to benefit oneself despite the certain harm to others.

  10. I think making judgments based upon some minority’s (in the numeric sense) inability to be moderate is problematic. Immoderation and poor self-discipline will always cause health problems. Period.

  11. Clark: No, it’s not problematic if the cost to society of that small group’s inability to be moderate far outweighs the benefits that the majority would receive by being moderate.

    There is the cost of lives lost in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, plus the property costs of the accidents, cost of medical expenses of immediate treatment plus care for the permanently injured, and reduced income of injured survivors. And which costs are spread throughout society by insurance premiums.

    There is also the shortened life-span of problem drinkers, medical costs directly attributed to alcoholism, and the increase of health-insurance premiums for all of us to cover the cost of treating the illnesses of those who do drink.

    And the cost of reduced worker productivity due to alcohol.

    Since the alleged benefits of moderate alcohol consumption can also be gained by an equal intake of fruit juices, I can’t see how one can assert any cost/benefit justification for moderate drinking, especially when one must factor in the increased costs (property damage, increased insurance premiums, medical costs, lost lives, lost income, etc) incurred by those who won’t be moderate.

    And in fact, the “majority” of responsible drinkers you’re thinking of may in fact be the minority. I’d bet that the responsible-citizen upper-middle-class “wine and cheese set” is a small minority of alcohol consumers.

    The vast majority of alcohol is sold in liquor stores and grocery stores in lower-middle to lower class neighborhoods where much is bought and consumed irresponsibly. “Bought irresponsibly” in the sense that a family could eat healthier if mom-and-dad didn’t consume as much alcohol.

    I need to take a video camera to a “grocery” store near the house of one of my friends. 55% of the store (in terms of shelf space) is alcohol, 25% is candy, and 10% is tobacco. It’s unreal. Man, if you want to make money in America, open a liquor store in a poor part of a city.

    And that particular one is smart, they’re acclimating kids to tobacco/alcohol by exposing it to them in this “candy/alcohol/tobacco store”.

    Clark, if you could actually see up close and personal what goes on in the inner city with and due to drugs/alcohol you’d want to go back to the days of prohibition. I know prohibition is a pipe dream, and it caused more problems, etc. But drugs, illegitimacy, and alcohol (and probably in that order) are the top problems in our inner cities today. They may not be the “root cause”, but they are a very _direct_ cause of much suffering.

    Yeah, maybe your circle of upper-middle-class yuppies can handle their drink, but as you go down the socio-economic scale, a larger and larger percentage of the consumers can’t or don’t.

    I’d also venture that alcohol is a “hidden wedge” (a la Spencer Kimball’s parable with the tree) that is working to eventually destroy the families and marriages of many of your upper-middle-class yuppy friends. You just won’t see the effects until they are in their 50’s, and the long-suffering wives leave their semi-secret alcoholic husbands once all the kids are grown and out.

    If any ‘nacclers are ever in Indianapolis, email me, and let’s go to that candy/alcohol/tobacco store. Even if you think you know poor or know the inner city, you’ll likely be amazed. (Unless you’re a cop who works the inner city.)

  12. Geoff: In 1988 I moved into a middle-class neighborhood. By the time I moved out in 1998 it had turned lower-class as the inner-city grew and subsumed the area. It was diverse when I moved there, and predominantly black when I moved out. I learned things that very very few middle-class and upper-class white people know. If middle-class and upper-class whites knew what I saw, they’d close down all urban schools and re-start from scratch, and hardly anyone would vote Democrat.

    Drugs (including alcohol) and illegitimacy. Those things are killing the inner cities, and destroying black Americans faster than anything else, including Republicans, George W. Bush, and white racists.

    And by the way, the candy/alcohol/tobacco store I mentioned is in an almost entirely white area.

    So when 20-something and 30-something academics and lawyers on the ‘nacle make those kinds of excuses, “oh, it’s not so bad”, it’s as if they are only going by what they see in their neighbors, peers, coworkers, etc. It’s as if those young’uns haven’t begun to see the gritty mess of real life that the majority of less-affluent urban Americans see.

    It really is like you say, the vast vast majority of drinkers are NOT “moderate” to the point of only one drink a day.

    It’s a shame that the forces of good have fallen behind in making ‘good’ appear ‘cool’. But the prophets have been right. Vices of all kinds anesthetize one over the years, and it takes more and more, stronger and stronger to have whatever effect the addict seeks, whether it be drugs, alcohol, porn, or illicit sex.

    Just as your close observation of people who drink and hold down jobs shows that very few are actually “moderate”, so has been mine. Long term alcohol use by an uncle broke up his well-to-do upper-middle class marriage. You can almost tell who the heavy drinkers are by the time they are in their late 40’s, and almost certainly by their late 50’s.

    It may be that only 10% of people who try alcohol go on to be a Barney (on the Simpsons), with a full-on drunk every night. But I’d guess that well over 50% of people who drink, do it to the level that it impacts their life-expectancy, and even more where it impacts their health in terms of quality-of-life.

    I feel just a tad bad about picking on Clark, but he’s using a platitude to misdirect the attention that should be focused on MAJOR societal problems that people don’t want to talk about, or admit. And it goes to more than just alcohol, but that would hijack the discussion.

  13. brianj: you’re right. I haven’t even touched that.

    The first thing is admit there’s a problem, try to quantify it, and publicize it. Let’s see John Stossel, The View, and Oprah deal with it more. Get the real facts and figures into the public awareness.

    I don’t think prohibition is the answer. But I wonder if our country can do some more kinds of legitimate control. Look at the drunk-driving stats I linked too. Both the total number of alcohol-related deaths, and the percentage of fatalities that are alcohol-related have gone down (while the number of miles driven annually has presumably gone up.)

    The social and legal campaigns against drunk driving seemed to have had a good effect.

    I haven’t looked it up, but I believe the per capita consumption of tobacco has gone down in the US too.

    Our society has successfully made it less “cool” to drive under the influence, and made it less “cool” to smoke.

    With alcohol, the change has to be slow, and not coercive of those who have already chosen to drink responsibly.

    I would be in favor of more controls on advertising of alcohol, along the lines that were done with tobacco. Just as we legislated away tobacco ads on TV, I think doing away with alcohol ads should be explored and tested.

    When I was young, I remember cigarette ads on TV. So their absence is noticeable to me, it shows that we can do the same with alcohol, if our society collectively wants to.

  14. Thanks Bookslinger. I think you’re right on the “make it uncool” campaigns. (Though I wonder how effective those are in parts of our society that aren’t really part of our society: inner cities, reservations….)

  15. BrianJ: as long as hard-left liberal democrats are in charge of social programs, I don’t think the inner cities will or can change. (I can’t speak to reservations.) But I think there is a critical mass of destructive evil in our inner cities that is almost, if not already, beyond control. (Not people who are evil in themselves, but under the influence or control or current of evil, and therefore doing evil things.)

    The police and courts have essentially given up on the minorities (essentially black and hispanic) in inner cities. It doesn’t _look_ that way to the casual observer, because the police are very very busy. But… as a percentage of the total crime that goes on, the stuff that police respond to is a tiny fraction.

    I suppose inner cities need about 5 to 10 times more criminal justice resources than currently exist; but we can’t afford 5 times as many inner city police, 5 times as many courts, 5 times the jail space, and 5 times the prison space. The inner cities don’t have the tax base to support it, and the outer areas don’t want to pay for it.

    There are regular sweeps done as “shows” to give the impression that cops are still working on it, but they’ve given up. Within 24 hours of a drug sweep, all the drug dealers are replaced with the next guy in line, and the supply chain makes up whatever product got confiscated.

    (And from what I observed while living in the inner city, corruption in the multi-jurisdictional LEO forces ensures that the big guys rarely get caught. The people running it were either incredibly stupid or corrupt, and the lower level LEOs knew it, but were powerless or will-less to expose the stupidity and/or corruption.)

    What the criminal justice system can do now has no more effect than a fart in a wind storm.

    Fathers/husbands are rarely involved with children in the inner city, and without them, the children are at the mercy of the undertow: Hollywood, the hip-hop culture, the gangster culture, and the drug culture.

    I’d also estimate that 3/4’s of the African-American girls in the inner city are sexually abused, and 1/4 of the boys. Can’t prove it, but that’s what I believe. If you don’t think it’s that high, ask 10 or more black women who grew up poor in the inner-city, and get an estimate for yourself.

    But yeah, something needs to be done to change the “drinking at age 10, pot at age 12, hard drugs at 14 or 16” mind-set that goes on in the inner-city. But will something be done? I doubt it. I don’t think President Silky gave it more than lip-service in his activist days. After all, he wasn’t raised by blacks and I don’t think he grew up in a black neighborhood.

    Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson probably have a better and bigger picture of the inner city than Silky. But they sold out their fellow blacks for fame and fortune long ago.

  16. Do a google search on “president silky” (no quotes) and my comment on MM comes up 5th, or 3rd with quotes.

    But there’s a “Hot Air” post from 2007 that uses “President Silky”. Darn. I amost invented the phrase.

    Maybe I can still register the domain. Umm… No, I don’t want to be that famous.


    What’s Rush Limbaugh’s nickname for Obama? Maybe I’ll suggest it to him.

Comments are closed.