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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm a Master of Wine (MW) having passed in 1997. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library and this is my personal wine blog. There should be no conflict of interest between my work with The Wine Library and the opinions expressed herein but I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. From June 2013 until May 2017 I was the Retail Manager for The Wicklow Wine Company. I was a member of the Council of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events, Trips, and Governance Committees. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

And the bad news is...

A study was recently published by The Lancet in relation to alcohol-related harms and it shows that there is no safe minimum level of alcohol consumption - bad news for wine drinkers! Or is it? The study is extensive and has lots of data (although the copy I found online in the above link does not contain the appendices) but there are some questions about the findings.

In essence the study appears to show that there is no safe limit to alcohol consumption. It is a huge study, perhaps the biggest of its kind ever, and the researchers put in vast amounts of work to standardise measurement of alcohol consumption (looking at units [10mg/L] of alcohol rates only and not beer, or wine, or spirits), trying to make up for the effects of tourism (see my blog post Is thinking critical?) and so on.
Certainly, the main points are worth bearing mind - poorer people drink less than richer and consequently tend to be exposed to different causes of death, and have a much lower exposure to deaths attributable to alcohol. People who drink less also have a lower exposure to alcohol related harms (deaths and disability-adjusted life years [DALYs]). Men suffer more from alcohol-related harms than women and alcohol is the 7th highest risk factor globally and is the highest risk factor for those aged between 15 and 49 years of age.
Where there had previously been an assumption that low-level consumption of alcohol was beneficial for certain deaths (ischaemic heart disease and diabetes, for example) they point out that this is outweighed by the exposure to other causes of death.
Now, all this may well be true and my knowledge does not extend to being able to do more than grope my way through this very academically worded document but there are a few things which give pause for thought. At least one commentary article which I found (this article in The New York Times is one and it's worth searching for Dr Emmanuela Gakidou as well) suggested that deaths per 100,000 non-drinkers are 914 but per 100,000 of those who drink 1 unit per day this rises to 918. This is an increase in risk of 0.4%! Among those who drink 2 units it rises to 977, or 7% increase, and for those who drink 5 units per day to 1252, or an increase of 37%.
Now, another study I found shows that a 16-17 year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven decreases 62% when a passenger aged 35 or older is in the vehicle. Looking at this another way is that the increased risk of death for a 16-17 year-old driver increases by 263% if they do not have an adult passenger! This puts the risk increase of 0.4% into context, however odd a context it might be.
Further searching on the web found this article from The Spectator which questions the methodology of the study, in particular not comparing the risks for non-drinkers versus those for drinkers. Again, I don't have the expertise to say one way or the other but perhaps the best last word comes from this article in The Guardian - But David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said the data showed only a very low level of harm in moderate drinkers and suggested UK guidelines were very low risk.
“Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention,” he said. “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.”

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