A new study published Thursday says the only safe amount of alcohol is no alcohol—which might be confusing since you’ve probably heard about the antioxidants in wine or how beer is supposedly good for your gut.
Before you clean out the liquor cabinet, let’s take a look at what the global study, published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is all about.
The researchers did a meta-analysis of 694 data sets collected between 1990 to 2016 on alcohol consumption and 592 studies on the health risks of alcohol use.
The Lancet authors found that consuming 10 grams of alcohol (about half a shot) per day was the leading risk for death and disease for both men and women between the ages of 15 and 49.
In fact, they concluded that alcohol was the source of one in 10 deaths around the world, killing an estimated 2.8 million people globally in that time period.
"The most surprising finding was that even small amounts of alcohol use contribute to health loss globally," senior study author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told CNN. "We're used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence."
The Lancet study certainly isn’t the first time alcohol has been associated with health problems. But it’s not necessarily the final word for those trying to figure out if a glass of rose at dinner every night is a good or bad idea.
One thing to keep in mind: The analysis says that alcohol is a contributor to various conditions and diseases that can lead to death.
Drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood that someone will engage in violence and self-harm, get involved in traffic accidents, or suffer what the study calls "unintentional injuries." Alcohol use has been associated with a weaker immune system, which can affect the body's ability to fight cancer.
In other words, the study doesn’t say that drinking alcohol in moderation will kill you; it’s simply associated with death and disease.
And that’s key because alcohol consumption—when controlled—has been shown in some other reputable studies to potentially be helpful, particularly when it comes to wine. Moderate drinking has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks,
As David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, told CNN: "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. Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention."
Gakidou told CNN that she was aware of the studies that showed better health with moderate drinking, but dismissed it and said that alcohol was almost universally a problematic health issue.
"We too found some protective effects for Type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease at low levels of alcohol consumption," she told CNN. "But those benefits are outweighed by the overall adverse health impact of alcohol, even at moderate levels."
Since current research hasn’t settled the matter, one course of action is to follow the guidelines set by the U.S. government. That’s one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men with no binge-drinking. And if you don’t drink? The feds say it’s best not to start.