What is moderate drinking ? and my (Dry January)

1) Dry January

With a full year of glorious cider reviews written (see below), and some great tales of amazing products, I’m sure to return to my favourite ciders, and continue to sample new cider discoveries and delights later on in 2019. Dry January for me doesn’t mean I’m not drinking any fluids, or exclusively “dry” alcohol either.

Instead, for the first time since I was 16, I’ve decided to do a whole month alcohol free. The motives are partly having a highly nasty winter virus, which has festered in my throat since November, but also to see what it’s like to relax without alcohol at a weekend. Also viruses aren’t helped by empty alcohol calories, but mostly nutrient-rich foods or drinks.

2) Alcohol for health and fun ?

Notice how I haven’t mentioned “health” yet in the context of alcohol, or cider being bad. This is because many regions drinking under 20% ABV products aren’t suffering from low life expectancy, namely Sardinia. You may think I am biased towards drinking because I enjoy the odd drink, but you’d be wrong.
During my degree I learnt about the data. Data which suggests moderate drinkers are healthier than non drinkers. Especially for those drinking moderate levels of wine or beer (sample study below). I therefore tailored my undergraduate drinking, according to the government guideline at the time of 21 units per week. The level I believed to constitute this “moderate”, or “healthy”, alcohol level.

Now, whilst no one can definitively conclude alcohol benefits the body, due to excessive consumption showing hugely damaging consequences, there is no doubt that a minor benefit can be seen in some populations from moderate levels. In sources I have included below, 2 studies show conflicting findings. One suggests no alcohol is the safest level, and the other suggests moderate drinking is more beneficial than non drinking.

This shows things aren’t clear, or black or white as the media would often have you believe, so should be about consumer preference, aswell as avoiding, where possible, excessive drinking for those concerned about health.

The real issue isn’t the harm caused by alcohol, but the disagreement in how much it takes to cause this. Research seems sparse into this area too.

Since beginning drinking, I’ve tried to adhere to the UK 21 units per week. This was the safe level suggested by the government up to the middle of last year, and when I first began drinking.

Recently however, I now have theoretically become a heavier drinker, due to the lowering of safe guidelines. Those magically reduced by the health fairy, due to a large research study, 14 is now the magic number for weekly units in the U.K. …

I feel this constant lowering of safe levels is a little silly. It seems to be putting people off drinking altogether, which isn’t a good thing to do. Drinking is a very social activity, a key part of tradition in U.K. Pubs, and a key income for struggling local business. It provides the government with a large income due to the tax on alcohol products, and helps people remain calm in times of trauma or heavy stress.

It gives people a spectra of choices, appealing to many tastes, and helps people have fun in a social context. It also provides different memories to those formed without alcohol, due to the drugs affect on normal body functioning. Clearly then, I feel for these non-scientific reasons, that alcohol has it’s place in leisure time.

So how can we drink moderately for fun, with the potential for minor health benefits ?

A study showing the benefits of wine specifically, suggests non-drinkers shouldn’t take up drinking for health reasons due to only minor benefits. It also states that 1-2 glasses of wine per day, could confer minor health benefits, those which include better cognitive health, reduced cardiovascular disease, and cancers.

Below I attempt to define what this “healthy”, or “moderate” drinking actually means, using data analysis.

2) Weekly – what is moderate ?

Below, following 5 articles describing moderate levels of drinking I have calculated an average for each of these articles for both genders. This is included every time in brackets e.g.

(average means = safe upper limit for health benefits for genders combined)

Study 1

The maximum range 14.7- 42 units per week ( 7 small glasses of wine minimum, to 14 large glasses of wine maximum) since it didn’t specify the glass size.

(28 units average)

Government 1 (1984-1987)

U.K Government (1984) -“That’s the limit” report 18 units was totally “safe” for men and 9 for women.

(14 units average)

Government 2 (1987-1994)

U.K. Government (1987) – “That’s the limit” report outlined “sensible” rather than ” safe” level.
The “sensible” amount was 21 units for men and 14 units for women.

( Sensible 18 units average)

Government 3 (1995 – 2018)

U.K. Government with health research combined (1995) “Sensible drinking” report of 1995 Didn’t lower limits due to minor benefits on heart health.

1995 men 21-28 units per week (25 av)
1995 Women 14-21 units per week (17.5 av)

( Sensible 21 units average)

Government 4 (2018 and 2019)

2018/19 men 14 units per week
2018/19 women 14 units per week

( Sensible 14 units average)

Overall average – (What is moderate conclusion) …

(14+21+18+14+28) = 19 units per week safe average limit from all articles, with 28 as the safe maximum.

Summary

Moderate drinking can be defined as about 19 units per week or below for both genders, although there will be some variation by individual.

Excessive drinking can shave over 6 years off your life if it is done regularly over prolonged periods of time. Everyone should have fun, and if that means drinking moderately, it won’t significantly damage your health. Moderate consumption of alcohol may be slightly beneficial, but can’t yet be recommended. Happy new year everyone.

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Sources
https://health.spectator.co.uk/the-great-alcohol-cover-up-how-public-health-bodies-hid-the-truth-about-drinking/
https://www.itv.com/news/2018-04-13/drinking-more-alcohol-leads-to-lower-life-expectancy-research-finds/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30146330
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165230/
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmsctech/1536/1536.pdf
https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/people-who-drink-above-uk-alcohol-guidelines-lose-one-two-years-life/
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51844743_A_Population_Where_Men_Live_As_Long_As_Women_Villagrande_Strisaili_Sardinia
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0138021

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