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Alcohol Has No Health Benefits

7 Sep

The Times recently republished this piece  on longevity. Most of the advise is reasonably sound, but it does include this:

It’s O.K. to drink red wine. “A glass of wine is better than a glass of water with a Mediterranean meal.”

If only it were true. Unfortunately, there is good reason to doubt this much promoted advice. See for example, this recent article by Dr. Mirkin:

A study from New Zealand shows that 30 per cent of alcohol–related deaths are from cancer, and 60 per cent of those deaths are from breast cancer. One third of these deaths were associated with an average of fewer than two drinks a day (Drug Alcohol Rev, June 16, 2016). However, the more you drink, the more likely you are to develop certain cancers. Alcohol increases risk for cancers of the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, breast, cervix, vulva, vagina, skin, bladder, lung, stomach, skin, prostate and pancreas, and for leukemia and multiple myeloma.

For many years it was claimed that low levels of alcohol consumption had health benefits. More recently, we have learned that the harm of alcohol is dose dependent, the more you drink, the greater the risk to your health. It is quite possible that low levels of exposure pose very little risk, but the optimal level of consumption appears to be zero.


“Do ‘Moderate’ Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk?”

30 Mar

Not according to this meta-analysis published in  The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“In summary, analyses of groups of higher quality studies free from abstainer biases were less likely to find evidence of reduced risk of mortality (i.e., health benefits) at low levels of alcohol consumption. Rather, the pattern of results is more consistent with a linear dose response than a J-shaped curve describing the risk relationships between level of alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality.”


Alcohol and the adolescent brain

29 Jan

A paper in Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics:

“Alcohol drinking is a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality in adolescents worldwide. Adolescents frequently binge drink, and this pattern of use is associated with poor school performance, injuries, violence, drug use, and a variety of poor psychosocial outcomes in adulthood. These associations have raised concerns that alcohol drinking may damage the adolescent brain and lead to impaired cognition and behavior. Similar to the neurotoxicity seen in adult alcoholics, magnetic resonance imaging studies of brain anatomy in adolescent drinkers have shown that alcohol disrupts the development of temporal and frontal cortices and myelinated fiber tracts throughout the brain. Although adult brains show some recovery with abstinence, at present, no studies have examined brain recovery in adolescents. Studies of neuropsychological function have found deficits in attention and visuospatial ability that show dose-dependent correlations with alcohol exposure and withdrawal symptoms, but visuospatial performance recovers with short-term abstinence. Differences in executive function and decision-making have also been found, but the available evidence suggests that these are not primarily the result of alcohol exposure; instead, they reflect premorbid factors that increase risk-taking and substance use. Nevertheless, alcohol drinking by adolescents remains an important concern because of the potential for brain injury in addition to the many negative consequences associated with acute intoxication.”


The cost of drinking

21 Oct

Alcohol is the world’s most popular neurotoxicin. Its effects on the brain are well documented. A recent article in The Washington Post reviews the hidden costs of drinking.


Prohibition was a failure, but the article makes a good case for increasing taxes on alcohol.

Working memory and sexual risk taking in adolescents

29 Jun

Who says memory is unimportant? A recent paper in the journal Child Development reports “Stronger Working Memory Reduces Sexual Risk Taking in Adolescents, Even After Controlling for Parental Influences.” Here is the abstract:

“This study examined the prospective influence of adolescent working memory (WM) on changes in impulsivity and sexual risk taking and assessed whether this relation could be explained by confounding effects of parental influences. Data from 360 community adolescents (Mage = 13.5 ± 0.95 years; 52% female; 56% non-Hispanic White; low-mid socioeconomic status (SES); recruited from Philadelphia area in 2004–2005) were analyzed using structural equation modeling to predict changes in impulsivity and sexual risk taking over a 2-year follow-up, using baseline assessments of WM, parental monitoring, parental involvement, and SES. Stronger WM predicted reduced involvement in sexual risk taking at follow-up, effects channeled through changes in impulsivity dimensions of “acting without thinking” and “inability to delay gratification.” Parental variables had a protective influence on adolescent impulsivity and risk involvement, but the effects of WM operated independently of parental influences.”

An earlier study found a link between working memory and alcohol use:

“Early adolescent alcohol use may be a consequence of (pre-existing) weaknesses in working memory (WM) rather than a cause of it. Efforts to reduce early alcohol use should consider the distinct roles of different impulsivity dimensions, in addition to WM, as potential targets of intervention.”



Alcohol consumption by country

21 Mar

An article in today’s Washington Post on world alcohol consumption:

“The rise of drinking in countries like China could be a cause for concern. Alcohol, which contributes to more than 300,000 deaths among males each year in the country, is considered the sixth greatest risk factor for men by the Institute for Health Metric and Evaluation.”



IQ and Alcohol Consumption

1 Mar

A paper published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research:

Studies of the association between IQ and alcohol consumption have shown conflicting results. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between IQ test results and alcohol consumption, measured as both total alcohol intake and pattern of alcohol use.

The study population consists of 49,321 Swedish males born 1949 to 1951 who were conscripted for Swedish military service 1969 to 1970. IQ test results were available from tests performed at conscription. Questionnaires performed at conscription provided data on total alcohol intake (consumed grams of alcohol/wk) and pattern of drinking. Multinomial and binomial logistic regressions were performed on the cross-sectional data to estimate odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Adjustments were made for socioeconomic position as a child, psychiatric symptoms and emotional stability, and father’s alcohol habits.

We found an increased OR of 1.20 (1.17 to 1.23) for every step decrease on the stanine scale to be a high consumer versus a light consumer of alcohol. For binge drinking, an increased OR of 1.09 (95% CI = 1.08 to 1.11) was estimated for every step decrease on the stanine scale. Adjustment for confounders attenuated the associations. Also, IQ in adolescence was found to be inversely associated with moderate/high alcohol consumption measured in middle age.

We found that lower results on IQ tests are associated with higher consumption of alcohol measured in terms of both total alcohol intake and binge drinking in Swedish adolescent men.”

Ironically the account of this study in The Telegraph linked to this story:

Starbucks to offer wine and beer in evenings

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