People have looked for miracle remedies to life’s maladies for centuries. Before the FDA, snake oil salesmen roamed the U.S. offering tonics that were guaranteed to cure what ails you. Although we’ve done away with much of that practice through federal regulations, there seems to be one substance with magical properties that scientists are still uncovering: alcohol.
For decades, U.S. researchers have been studying alcohol and finding new benefits from drinking that seem almost too good to believe. Claims about alcohol’s abilities range from improving memory to boosting creativity, from reducing the risk of heart disease to making you thinner, and one study even suggested that drinking a glass of wine had the same effect as exercising for an hour.
The most recent miracle claim comes from researchers in Denmark who say drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may help reduce your risk of developing diabetes. They studied over 70,000 people and found that drinking three to four times a week was associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes.
While each study should be evaluated on its own individual merits, it’s clear that such claims go against decades of established medical knowledge proving alcohol has detrimental effects on your health. Even properties recognized to be beneficial, like the antioxidants found in red wine, can also be absorbed through other foods, making the wine itself irrelevant. This means that even if some of the claims are true, the negatives of drinking may outweigh the positives.
Many of the studies quoted in news reports have not been reproduced by other scientists, meaning their results are far from verified. Most news reports also fail to dig into the meat of the research, creating misleading and oversimplified explanations that don’t capture the true nature of the findings. In fact, coverage of the most recent study concerning diabetes has already been criticized for a lack of clarity and detail surrounding the study’s extreme limitations. The fact is that researchers found an association between drinking and lower diabetes rates, but not a causality.
Perhaps the more troubling aspect of alcohol research comes from its funding sources. The National Institutes of Health is launching a $100 million study into the potential benefits of alcohol consumption on heart health. Where’s the money coming from? So far, five of the world’s largest alcohol manufacturers have pledged over $67 million to a fund associated with the NIH. Alcohol suppliers have long offered their support of public health initiatives as a way of showing good faith to consumers and federal regulators. But this latest donation automatically calls into question the legitimacy of any of the study’s future findings.
Alcohol needn’t be demonized. It is, after all, an innate substance devoid of any moral standing of its own. But to suggest that it offers such extraordinary health benefits while ignoring the myriad of negative consequences is not only misleading, it’s dangerous. Public health information should be grounded in fact, not unverified results of questionable studies that resulted in incomplete news coverage.
Perhaps such shaky research comes from our desire to justify our drinking habits, or perhaps it’s just bad science. Either way, before you start swapping a glass of wine for your daily trip to the gym, remember that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.