Are you going dry for January? The latest research suggests that’s a great idea. After years of studies saying that a certain amount of alcohol is not a bad thing for your health, science is increasingly coming to the conclusion that alcohol is poisonous in any quantity, no matter who you are.
As a result, Canadian health authorities have recently renewed their official guidelines on alcohol consumption, warning that no amount is healthy, and suggesting that people drink less or preferably none. This applies to all forms of alcohol, including wine, beer and spirits.
As recently as 2011, the Canadians recommended women consume no more than 10 drinks a week and men 15, so this is a significant change.
In Australia, the official recommendation is currently no more than 10 drinks a week, and no more than four per day, but this may soon have to be revised in line with global trends, no matter how much the alcohol lobby kicks and screams.
What’s wrong with a drink?
Alcohol’s principle health risks are increased blood pressure, liver disease and heart disease, but alcohol is also carcinogenic, and of course a central factor in many assaults and accidents.
Dr Catherine Paradis from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says even two drinks per week is associated with an elevated risk of seven types of cancer (including breast and colon), as well as cardiovascular disease.
The health research is also stacking up in America, with excessive alcohol use resulting in 140,000 deaths per year between 2015 and 2019, including accidents. American Cancer Society research suggests that alcohol contributes to more than 75,000 cases of cancer per year in that country, and nearly 19,000 cancer deaths.
Cumulative damage is a major issue. New research suggests that it doesn’t matter if you don’t drink at all in the week, if you drink a lot on the weekend that will seriously affect your health long term.
Scientists are saying that alcohol damages human bodies on a fundamental level, by damaging DNA. When alcohol enters your system, it’s metabolised into acetaldehyde, which is toxic to cells. This can lead to cells growing out of control and creating cancers. It can also damage the cells that line blood arteries, leading to coronary artery disease and atrial fibrillation.
The DNA damage can be better or worse, depending on your genes.
What about the Mediterranean diet?
Long the poster child of wine enthusiasts in particular, with claims that moderate drinking was good for heart health, it now appears that the healthy aspects of the Mediterranean diet (including plenty of fruit and vegetables) offset the unhealthy aspects, such as the alcohol, at least to some extent.
The great news from researchers is that any reduction in alcohol consumption will improve your health, even if you can’t manage to give it up entirely, or would be miserable without any alcohol in your life.
Prohibition didn’t work in the past in America, and alcohol consumption is deeply ingrained in cultures like Australia’s, but the rise of fancy non-alcoholic drinks here and around the world, along with increasing knowledge about the damage alcohol causes, suggests that we may have passed the point of peak alcohol as a species, which will be a great thing for human health.