A Bottle of Wine a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?
Over the weekend, both the Daily Mail and Independent published the somewhat alarming claim from an “alcohol expert” that drinking a bottle of wine per day is not only not detrimental to one’s health, but is actually better for you than drinking no alcohol at all. Writing in the Express, Leo McKinstry subsequently suggests “the zealots of the public health lobby” should “put a cork in it“, citing Winston Churchill‘s anecdotal ability to drink every day and still be Prime Minister at 80 as evidence that alcohol intake should not be regulated. Given that modern NHS guidelines recommend that consumption should not regularly excess 3-4 units per day for men and 2-3 units per day for women, and an average bottle of wine contains around 10 units, just who is correct, and is there any evidence behind these alcoholic claims?
The story appears to have been started by the Daily Mail article, which quotes former World Health Organisation alcohol expert Dr Kari Poikolainen, a retired Research Director of the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, as saying “the weight of the evidence shows moderate drinking is better than abstaining and heavy drinking is worse than abstaining“, and that “drinking only becomes harmful when people consume more than around 13 units a day“, rather than the suggested NHS limits of 3-4 units. No links to any study are given, and I could certainly not find any new article through the usual scientific search engines, although Dr Poikolainen is currently marketing a book titled “Perfect Drinking and its Enemies“. We’ll let you come to your own conclusions on the motivation behind the quoted comments.
After the initial Daily Mail article appeared, the Independent produced a similar piece which simply parrotted the Mail’s output. Neither gave any links to actual evidence, but both helpfully included comments from Julia Manning of think-tank 2020Health, refuting the claims made in the article and reinforcing the dangers of alcohol abuse. A subsequent commentary in the Guardian excellently sums up both the lack of evidence put forward and the wealth of problems associated with excess alcohol consumption. It also includes a plea for the research behind these quotes – we would also love to see it!
How Much Should We Drink?
Personally, drinking a bottle of wine every day would result in increased sales of paracetamol and a downturn in blogging productivity, and I would not suggest anyone tries to follow this diet – nailing a bottle of wine each evening neatly fits the definition of alcoholism. These quotes fly in the face of current scientific evidence and government advice. Alcohol is the leading cause of death in British men between the ages of 16–54 years, accounting for over 20% of the total, and so claims by a retired researcher with a book to promote should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. Leo McKinstry justifies his attack on “shrill interventionism” by the heartless statistic:
Alcohol-related diseases, for example, cost the NHS £3billion a year, a sum far outweighed by the £15billion raked in from duties and VAT on alcohol.
But what price do we place on our own good health? Guidelines exist to guide us, not force us, and one outspoken individual should not be able to harmfully shout down decades of sound science without presenting some evidence of his own.