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Is moderate drinking good for your health?: HealthLink

A new analysis suggests even a daily glass of red wine may not be as beneficial as previously touted.

SEATTLE — It's been widely accepted that "moderate" drinking isn't going to be bad for your health, but a new analysis of years of research suggests that may not be the case.

A newly released paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests moderate drinking isn't as beneficial as prior research had suspected.

It found the risk of dying prematurely goes up for women who consume 25 grams of alcohol a day (equivalent to about two drinks) and for men who consume 42 grams of alcohol, which amount to about three drinks.

"It was one of the largest studies I've seen, but there are others that have found the same thing," said Dr. Joseph Merrill, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington. 

Merrill also specializes in addiction medicine, including alcohol use. From what he has seen as a physician, he agrees with the findings from the new report.

"This perceived, or at first glance what looks like a health benefit of alcohol, isn't really true," Merrill said.

U.S. guidelines by the National Institutes of Health consider moderate drinking as two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.

Studies have touted certain alcoholic drinks like red wine as beneficial, pointing to the antioxidant effects of resveratrol, a compound found in grapes.

But much of the past research was flawed statistically, according to the new analysis posted on JAMA in late March.

"What this study added was a more careful look at the data and especially trying to avoid the bias that was introduced in the study that look at folks who drink moderately compared to people who don't drink at all," Merrill said.

That bias fell within whom "light" drinkers were compared to in prior, observational studies. The JAMA paper revealed they were sometimes compared to people who don't drink at all. However, those people who quit drinking may have done so because of alcohol-related health problems. Moreover, moderate drinkers, tend to have healthier lifestyles, according to the analysis.

"Is it bad to have a drink a day? Is that clearly associated with mortality worsening? No, that's not clear either. But it is clear we shouldn't be adding alcohol with the thought that drinking a drink a day is going to make you live longer," Merrill said.

Merrill and medical circles point out that alcohol is a toxin, no matter how much you take in.

When the body metabolizes it, those toxins can have adverse effects on organs such as the liver, but they can also do cell damage, which in some cases, can lead to certain cancers.

"Drinking is not a healthful activity. It won't increase our life span either, even at low levels of drinking," Merrill said.

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