By Sandee LaMotte, CNN Updated 1:09 PM EDT, Fri August 24, 2018
My cmnt: Please forgive me for posting anything on my site from CNN. It’s not like I ever look at or listen to CNN it’s because my local newspaper reprinted this article that I saw it. So mea culpa and onto some clarifications before the article.
My cmnt: Knowing CNN and their bias against Christians, Jews and particularly Catholics, who mostly accept alcohol as a gift from God and imbibe freely at celebrations such as weddings, it would not surprise me if this piece isn’t simply a bone thrown to Muslims who strictly forbid the making of or consumption of alcohol products (though there is strong testimony from American soldiers in the Middle East that a lot of Muslim men secretly drink and of course abuse opium as well as enjoy bacon on their goat burgers).
My cmnt: Full disclosure: I am a teetotaler (for my younger audience that means total abstinence from drinking alcohol and for those who don’t know what abstinence means… well look it up) and so I could be biased towards accepting the dangers of alcohol consumption as it hardly affects me if factually true.
My cmnt: Further full disclosure: I do make an exception – to honor my Lord and Savior in memory of His spilled blood under scourging and on the Cross – and drink the wine at the Table of Christ during Communion. It tastes bitter to me but reminds me of His bitter suffering on my behalf.
My cmnt: Even further full disclosure: My Dad drank beer every weekend either with his buddies or in front of the TV watching sports. Whomever of us kids could get him another beer from the frig the fastest could have a sip of his beer. Being the oldest I usually got there first or threw my younger siblings out of the way or simply took it from them and delivered it to our father. Needless to say I consumed a fair amount of beer starting around six years of age. Ironically (or not, irony is hard to define precisely) I just never developed a taste for it (nor wine as both my sister and I were allowed to taste-test any wine served) and it lost all of its allure and meant nothing to me as a teenage rite of passage.
My cmnt: Annoyingly further full disclosure: My Dad also smoked – a lot. Cigarettes, stogies and pipes, as did his father and both lived into their 80s. My cousin would steal a cigar from his dad and share it with me. To this day I love the smell of a freshly lit cigarette and love to play with lighters. Ironically (you know the drill) I am a committed nonsmoker as I simply never developed a taste for it, it lost all of its allure and meant nothing to me as a teenage rite of passage and still doesn’t. I’m happy that the Libs have made such a big deal out of tobacco and smoking in public places because I don’t enjoy second-hand smoke but from a civil rights perspective I abhor their typical heavy-handed approach to getting what they want through public school propaganda and government legislation.
My cmnt: Still fuller disclosure (I promise the last one): I was raised in the Mormon tradition of considering the consumption of coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco a sin. As I had easy access to all of that but never acquired a taste of any of it I was well on my way to heaven. Like an orthodox Jew or copycat Muslim who simply does not like the taste of pork I was ceremonially righteous, it really required nothing on my part, and made me better than most of my peers who constantly struggled with using one or more of these products. What about my father you may ask? Well let’s just say he was backslidden for a long time but eventually, with great will power and resolve, gave up alcohol and tobacco. I still admire him greatly for that resolve. Perhaps, since vaccines are such a big deal today, I could consider myself inoculated against these substances through early and limited exposure to them.
If you’re one of the third of all humankind who drinks alcohol, take note: There’s no amount of liquor, wine or beer that is safe for your overall health, according to a new analysis of 2016 global alcohol consumption and disease risk.
Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the study, published Thursday in the journal The Lancet.
For all ages, alcohol was associated with 2.8 million deaths that year.
Those deaths include alcohol-related cancer and cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, intentional injury such as violence and self-harm, and traffic accidents and other unintentional injuries such as drowning and fires.
“The most surprising finding was that even small amounts of alcohol use contribute to health loss globally,” said senior study author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “We’re used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence.”
Not surprisingly due to their large populations, China, India and Russia led the world in the total number of alcohol-related deaths in men and women. The US ranked fifth among men and seventh among women on that list; the UK ranked 21st for men and ninth for women.
“This study is a stark reminder of the real, and potentially lethal, dangers that too much alcohol can have on our health and that even the lowest levels of alcohol intake increase our risks,” Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in the UK, said in a statement. She was not involved in the study.
However, countered David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, “Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention.
“There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving,” Spiegelhalter, who also was not involved in the research, said in a statement. “Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”
The Lancet study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease report, which captured information on premature death and disabilityfrom over 300 diseases by sex and age in 195 countries or territories between 1990 and 2016.
Researchers analyzed the impact of alcohol on 23 health conditions and alcohol-related risks on people between the ages of 15 and approximately 95 for the year 2016.
For purposes of the study, a standard alcoholic drink was defined as 10 grams or approximately 12 milliliters of alcohol. That measurement varies around the world; for example, a standard drink is 8 grams in the UK and 14 grams in US. It’s even higher in Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Over 1,300 studies on alcohol use by country and the accompanying disease burden, measured by both deaths and disability-adjusted life years, were analyzed by the Global Burden of Disease collaborators.
For the first time, Gakidou said, in an attempt to improve on previous research, the new analysis adjusted for the impact of tourism on local statistics in liquor sales and attempted to control for unrecorded drinking, such as home brewing or illicit trade. Another improvement over past studies, she said, was a new meta-analysis of the effects of alcohol on the 23 health outcomes, which was then used to access risk.
In independent comments published alongside the study, King’s College London alcohol researcher Robyn Burton called the study “state-of-the-art.”
“The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue,” Burton wrote, suggesting that policy makers put a priority on programs that focus on decreasing alcohol consumption.
The Alcohol lobby has a different take
However, the Alcohol Information Partnership, a group comprising eight of the world’s biggest liquor companies, said in a statement that “Nothing in this study challenges the array of studies suggesting that choosing to drink moderately is associated with a decreased risk of some health issues and a lower risk of death. We advocate sensible drinking by those who choose to drink and support consistent, evidence-based advice, which enables people to make their own informed choices about alcohol.”
The Distilled Spirits Council echoed that in its own statement. “Claims in the study disputing the research on potential benefits of moderate consumption do not comport with the body of scientific evidence, including a recent study in the American Heart Association Journal Circulation that found that moderate alcohol consumption is one of ‘five low-risk lifestyle-related factors’ that could help people live longer.
“The researchers make clear that they are advocating for worldwide abstention from alcohol. A more reasonable and effective approach is to address issues surrounding alcohol abuse country by country, taking into account the culture, individual alcohol consumption patterns and the marketplace.”
Globally, the study found that about 2.4 billion people drink alcohol. Twenty-five percent are women, who consumed 0.73 drinks each day. Thirty-nine percent are men, who drink an average of 1.7 drinks a day.
The countries with the highest percentage of men and women who reported drinking in the previous year were Denmark, Norway and Germany. Although they didn’t make the top 10, 85.3% of men and 81.3% of women in the UK said they had tippled in the previous 12 months. In the US, 68.8% of men and 56.8% of women said they had done so.
Countries with the lowest percentage of drinking citizens were typically Arab and Middle Eastern nations.
For ages 50 and up, cancers were the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths; road injuries, self-harm and tuberculosis were the top causes of death around the world in the 15-to-49 age group.
However, in terms of total numbers, Gakidou said, “most deaths from alcohol come from cardiovascular disease and cancers when you look at average consumption by age and sex within countries.”
Potential benefits outweighed by overall risk
The results appear to fly in the face of research that indicates moderate drinking – in the United States, that’s one drink a day for women and two a day for men – might reduce the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. That might be true in isolation, Gakidou said, but the picture changes when all risks are considered.
“We too found some protective effects for Type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease at low levels of alcohol consumption,” she said. “But those benefits are outweighed by the overall adverse health impact of alcohol, even at moderate levels.”
Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, agreed, saying in a statement, “While there may be a slight benefit to heart and circulatory health from modest drinking, many studies have shown that the overall health risks of drinking alcohol outweigh any benefits.”
University of Cambridge epidemiologist Steven Bell co-authored aseparate study published in April in The Lancet that found drinking isbeneficial in lowering the risk for heart attack. However, that study’s big takeaway was that even one drink a day could shorten life expectancy; long-term reduction in alcohol use added one to two years to life expectancy at age 40.
He points out that his study looked only at drinkers, but the new research compared drinkers to non-drinkers in accessing risk and is one of the first to look at data from low- and middle-income countries.
“Based on these findings,” Bell said, “at no point … is there a level of consumption that appears to lower the overall risk of developing any of the wide array of diseases investigated in comparison to non-drinking.
“The take-home message being that people shouldn’t drink under the belief that it will lower their risk of disease,” he said, “and those of us who opt to drink should minimize our intake if we wish to prolong our life and well-being.”
Clarification: This article has been updated to provide more detail on the total number of alcohol-related deaths reported globally.