Front-Page Anti-Alcohol Study Not Supported by Its Own Data

A study cited on the front page of the April 1 Wall Street Journal which purports to prove that no amount of alcohol will help you live longer "is not supported by the very data presented in it," Dr. Amanda Berger, vice president for science and health, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., told us.  

"The (study) authors’ results demonstrate a ‘J-Curve’ in the relationship between alcohol consumption and all-cause-mortality, which suggests that those who drink in moderation live longer than those who do not.  This J-Curve has been consistently demonstrated in the literature across many decades of research and the findings of this study replicate this pattern of association."

Well, that's not news.   Nor was there news when the study's authors examined the relationship between alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality for men and women, separately.

The study's results "showed the risk between drinking and all-cause mortality increases at 45+ grams alcohol per day for men or 25+ grams per day for women." Dr. Berger said. "In the U.S., this translates to roughly three standard drinks per day for men or two for women and supports the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation to limit intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed."

JAMA Network Open publish the study which was a metastudy, that is a study about a whole bunch of studies.  Many of those studies were an attempt to rebut the famous CBS "60 Minutes" episode about the "French Paradox" in which correspondent Morley Safir found that the French have a diet that violates every rule promulgated by the U.S. public health establishment:  they eat far too much fat, they drink far too much red wine – and they live far longer than most Americans.

Scientists interviewed on the 60 Minutes program attributed the longer lives for the French to the wine reducing cardiovascular disease.

Needless to say, the anti-alcohol crowd hated the 60 Minutes episode and has spent a lot of effort (and your tax dollars) trying to discredit it. Most of the effort has been devoted to studies  that found that drinking alcohol in many cases seems to increase the odds that a person will die from, say, one form or another of cancer.

But that's not news, either.  No one has claimed moderate alcohol consumption protects one against all diseases.  The science thus far has only shown it reduces the odds of an early death from cardiovascular disease – the largest killer by far of Americans.   The possibility of people who drink alcohol dying from some other disease – cancer for instance – has been readily acknowledged by scientists and by the industry.  

So, if you want to try to discredit the possibility of moderate drinking having a protective effect, you use "all-cause-mortality" as your standard, and you fail to report that cardiovascular disease kills far more Americans than any of the other diseases, which is exactly what the authors of the JAMA Network Open study did.

"While the findings of this study are consistent with the larger body of evidence around the J-Curve, no one should drink alcohol to obtain potential health benefits and some individuals should not drink at all," Dr. Berger said, adding: "Alcohol abuse can cause serious health problems, and the spirits industry urges those adults who choose to drink to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and to talk to their healthcare providers about their alcohol consumption."