Is Alcohol Really Good for You?

Not long ago, scientific researchers made big news that caused many to raise a glass and say, “I’ll drink to that!” According to them, a nightly goblet of wine or other alcoholic beverage was actually good for you—for your heart and cardiovascular system. In Western culture, where heart disease and strokes are the leading causes of death, wouldn’t it be great news if alcohol consumption helped prevent them?

It sounded too good to be true. And, indeed, if anything does sound too good to be true, then, as the saying goes, it probably isn’t. Those celebrating these studies with another drink have, unfortunately, been toasting a bit too soon.


Keep Those Arteries Clean

Stories about the supposed benefits of booze have inundated our media. “Moderate drinking helps keep arteries clean: study” ran a headline in the Daily Mail. The opening line: “Moderate consumption of alcohol can stop, and maybe even reduce, the buildup of fat in arteries that is the leading cause of heart disease, according to a new study.” 

How Drinking Alcohol May Unclog Your Arteries,” said a headline in Esquire, with the subhead: “Drown your cholesterol sorrows in booze.” The opening lines: “We all know that hamburgers, burritos, and all other superlatively delicious foodstuffs clog up your arteries. We didn’t know that alcohol—at least alcohol in certain forms—may go a long way toward unclogging them.”

In some cases, even heavy drinking was touted as good for the heart. The heavier the drinking, reports claimed, the better it was for the heart. A headline like this, “Heavy drinkers less likely to get heart attack, research says,”—followed by lines like these, “Men who drink regularly, even in small quantities, are more than 30% less likely to suffer from heart disease, it found. But those who drink the most cut their risk by the most”—surely helped sales at local liquor stores and kept bartenders busier than ever.

Why shouldn’t drinkers rejoice? After all, they had the science to back them up, and when science backs up something, why question it?


New Science

You question it because the history of science is filled with examples of scientific findings once deemed “proven” that were later shown to be wrong. Perhaps the most famous example is Newton’s theory of gravity, which had been the crème de la crème of scientific discovery until Albert Einstein overturned it in the twentieth century.

And what Einstein did to Newton, new studies about alcohol consumption are doing to the old findings. That is, the new studies show that the claims that alcohol was good for you were, indeed, flat-out wrong.

“Countless people subscribe to the belief that a nightly glass of wine does wonders for the heart and cardiovascular system. New research from Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard, however, is calling for closing time on theories stating moderate alcohol use is good for the heart. Scientists explain any prior observed scientific connections between the occasional beer or glass of wine and robust cardiovascular health likely resulted from other lifestyle factors usually seen among light to moderate drinkers.”

In other words, what had previously been attributed to lowering heart disease rates, that is, drinking alcohol, was not actually the cause. Instead, what lowered heart disease rates were other lifestyle factors not related to booze. Indeed, the new research concluded the opposite of what the older studies said: “This latest and quite large research project ultimately concludes drinking any amount of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.”


Lifestyle 

How did the science get it so wrong?

Scientific research can be complicated, and all sorts of factors determine the conclusions peddled in media—sometimes it’s inadequate sample sizes, poor reasoning, bias, or even lying to achieve a certain finding. Often, the research is too shallow. In this case, for some reason, it turns out that moderate drinkers tended to live a healthy lifestyle in other areas, which includes regular exercise, eating more vegetables, and less smoking. These factors, which are known to be important for good health overall, were what actually made the difference regarding heart and cardiovascular disease.

Moreover, the study, which was published on the Journal of the American Medical Association network, said that “alcohol consumption at all levels was associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.” In other words, any amount of alcohol—light, moderate, heavy—has negative consequences.

The bottom line: Taking care of your health—such as with a good diet, exercise, and not downing a few drinks each day—lowers your heart-disease risk. “When study authors included such lifestyle factors into their calculations, any cardiovascular benefits tied specifically to moderate alcohol consumption essentially disappeared.”

The best way to take care of your health is to eat right, not smoke, and, yes, not drink alcohol. To learn more about how to take the best care of your God-given body and about the principles behind good health, try out this free Study Guide!

If you want to drink a toast to what you learn, great—just make sure it’s a non-alcoholic beverage!

Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.
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