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World Health Agencies Deny Decades-Old Science On Alcohol’s Benefits

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter
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Global public health officials are bringing the long-accepted notion that moderate alcohol consumption can provide health benefits under fire, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The idea that moderate drinking — defined as three drinks a day — can be beneficial, came from a study from Dr. Arthur L. Klatsky. He showed moderate drinking lowers the risk of heart disease. “The risk of death from all causes [of coronary artery disease] is slightly lower among moderate drinkers than among abstainers,” his study revealed.

In 1995, the Department of Health and Human Services changed language in its guidelines for alcohol use to strike “no health benefits,” and replace that by saying moderate drinking does have health benefits, like a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

The Harvard School of Public Health said moderate consumption of alcohol can reduce incidences of “heart attack, ischemic (clot-caused) stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes.” The school also said alcohol has positive effects on gallstones and type 2 diabetes.

This is the “health halo” that has surrounded the alcohol industry for decades, allowing it to operate under the guise of being medically beneficial, and avoid such scrutiny like the tobacco industry faced in the 90s.

However, in January, the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies said, “there is no safe level of drinking,” in a move aimed at tightening recommended alcohol use. The U.K. has lowered the threshold for what is deemed moderate alcohol use, at least for men, from 21 “units” down to 14. Women already were recommended 14 units, and guidelines did not change for them.

Mark Bellis, a public health official in Wales, said new science, being able to effectively isolate alcohol’s effects from other factors like diet and exercise, had shown there is a correlation between “cancer and alcohol,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

The alcohol industry is planning on fighting back against these new claims.

“We can’t let them gain traction,” Beer Institute President Jim McGreevy said in an April conference about alcohol critics.

Alcohol manufacturers AB InBev, Diageo, Heineken NV and Pernod Ricard SA are planning on spending more than $55 million to conduct a randomized trial aimed at looking into the positive health effects of alcohol. The U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will oversee the study.

The study will last six years and look at risks of heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Notably absent from the study is the fact it will not be assessing rates of cancer.

The Wall Street Journal notes an intra-university duel between two Boston University School of Medicine doctors, Tim Naimi and Curtis Ellison. Naimi said he found a flaw in studies that claimed health benefits of alcohol use, saying that people listed as non-drinkers actually used to drink and only stopped due to illness. Once he accounted for that, he found “moderate drinking had no net health benefits.”

Ellison, however, fought back on that claim, saying Naimi didn’t account for studies done in animals that showed a rise in the good cholesterol, known as HDL, a move Ellison called “unconscionable.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to alcohol associations but did not hear back by press time.

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