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04.2009

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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archivedHealth

THE GREAT DEBATE . . .

. . . CONTINUED.

THE TOPIC of alcohol and health is a baffling one.  Depending on the health report alcohol is alternately: good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, ok for you, possibly lethal . . . It’s mind boggling.  Two reports released in February, one by France’s National Cancer Institute (Institut National du Cancer, INCa) and the other by University of Oxford researchers and released by the british medical journal, had particularly negative findings regarding the light consumption of alcohol.  The French study says that consuming a 125ml glass of wine increases the chance of developing mouth and throat cancer by 168 percent, the daily mail reported. Other cancers are also more likely to strike regular drinkers, the study claimed.  The INCa study warned that “the consumption of alcohol is associated with an increase in the risk of cancers – mouth, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, and breast cancer.”  “Small daily doses of alcohol are the most harmful,” the study’s chief scientist told the press.  “There is no amount, however small, which is good for you.”  The INCa study said alcohol was now the second most avoidable cause of death after tobacco.  However, the findings contradict countless other studies which have found that the antioxidants in red wine reduced the risk of cancer, and that a single glass a day was also good for the liver.  A separate study last year published in the medical journal neurology said those who drank modest amounts of alcohol developed dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, at an 85 percent slower rate than those who did not drink. It’s also important to note that the French report came from the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, a right-wing teetotaler. Suffice it to say that the study must be taken with a grain of salt, or a drop of wine.

More prominently in the news was the Oxford study of nearly 1.3 million British women that claims drinking just a glass of wine a day increases women’s risk of breast cancer as well as several other types of the disease. The researchers said that they compared the lightest drinkers – two or fewer drinks a week – with people who drank more. Each extra drink per day increased the risk of breast, rectal and liver cancer, University of Oxford researchers reported in the journal of the national cancer institute. The type of alcohol didn’t matter. An additional finding was that alcohol consumption was linked to esophageal and oral cancers only when smokers drank. Also, moderate drinkers actually had a lower risk of thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and renal cell cancer.  However, this report is being widely criticized as flawed.  The new research omits that moderate alcohol use has long been thought to be heart-healthy and that there have been scores of studies to that effect.  According to the website Wine Industry Insights, the means for collecting data was a voluntary self-selected study meaning that women volunteered to fill out forms themselves.  Lewis Perdue, former investigative reporter and publisher of the site wrote: “Self-selecting sample populations can often have little connection to reality because they are unrepresentative of a population as a whole.  Indeed, there is no way to know whether or not the women most motivated to participate in this study were those with existing or potential hereditary health problems.”  Additional flaws noted on the site include: The questionnaires were extensive and complicated; abstainers were excluded from the study; self-administered questionnaires are notoriously unreliable; and there was no discussion of key socio-economic factors.  Perdue also said: “The syndicated newspaper article and the medical paper left out that scores of peer-reviewed studies, published over the past 20 years, all agree that people who consume alcohol in moderation live longer than either abstainers or heavy drinkers.  The most glaringly unethical omission appears near the end of the article – it’s written by syndication staffers of BMJ Publishing Group, a company that owns the british medical journal.”  Criticism of the study has been widespread and the backlash may ultimately overshadow the findings themselves.  Not to mention that everyone is still confused.  Maybe a drink will help to clear your head.

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