The Case Against Alcohol

September 03, 2018 

The Case Against Alcohol


 ReferencesThe LancetCNNCell Commun SignalScience

 This is no small study. Using 694 "data points" for alcohol consumption by populations and 592 prospective and retrospective studies on alcohol use from 195 countries, projections were made about the total and real risks of alcohol. This is an important study because it shifts the overall net balance of alcohol's effect to negative from positive. They looked at 23 health outcomes against alcohol use and developed a new method of assessing what is the lowest risk point for consumption (aka, what can you get away with). 

For decades, we have been saying that a drink a day was good for you. Maybe not for women, but generally ok. That changes now. The data is hard to deny, much as alcohol itself makes us want to say it is ok. The details are as follows. For the age group of 15-49 which generally doesn't die of diseases, alcohol is the leading cause of death when you take into account accidents, suicide, overdose and everything else (bar fights, drunk driving, domestic disputes). Women, ages 15-49 have a 3.8% chance of death from alcohol and men a 12.2% chance of death in that age range that can be attributed to alcohol. With that sort of granularity, reading the study gives you confidence that the authors did a pretty deep dive to get to these conclusions. 

 For older folks above age 50, the rise of cancer in relationship to alcohol consumption becomes the driving statistical engine to bring the net benefit to zero. Zero. There is no safe level. Young or old. No safe level. Now, guess what the alcohol industry has frantically said in got it. They quote the American Heart study saying a drink a day keeps the doctor away, etc. Even the vaunted Harvard Men's Health Study had one drink a day as part of their formula for extra longevity. 

The problem with all those studies was looking at JUST one condition, like death from heart attack, instead of the whole spectrum. And the data is equally clear for alcohol and driving. No level is safe. No level. Now, I'm curious about mechanism and what's behind all this. I think the clue comes down the Longo's research into longevity and resiliency. His research shows that alcohol turns off mTOR, the gene that builds protein and cells. Growth and development helps you reproduce and make babies, but inhibiting it helps you live longer. Yin and yang. 

Dietary restriction is hard on reproducing but great on living longer. Alcohol turns it off living longer. Bummer. Is there a benefit to alcohol? Well, yes. When structured in cultural practices that use it to create community, enhance connection and love between humans, that's good. It's a pretty slippery slope. Seeking pleasure is a universal force. Comes with a price. 

 www.what will work for me. Lousy puritanical message. I heard so much of this in my conservative boarding school background. It's wearingly tedious to admit that those rigid old Victorians were right. I'm no tea-totaller. But I'm cutting down. One drink, only when I go out with friends. Time to back peddle down to two drinks a week, not one a day. And only in the social context of having a meal with loved ones. And then not driving with my loved ones with alcohol. Grrrr.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. One drink a day will help you live longer. T or F Answer: Used to be called true, now called false.
  2. Why the change? Answer: When you take into account all the conditions like trauma, domestic violence, traffic accidents as well as everything else, you fine other causes of death that statistically contribute to higher death rates.
  3. What was the prior error? Answer: If you would focus only on heart attacks, well yes, there are a few less. Or just one age group.
  4. Is there blowback against this data? Answer: Hell doesn't freeze easily. The alcohol industry is bigger than we are.
  5. What is a prudent person to do? Answer: Love and connection is what life should be about. Cherish your loved ones. Don't drink and drive, but do create community, family, dinners together, connection, sacred spaces. Have some communion together. And maybe that much alcohol........0.25 oz communion wine.