Science - April 23, 2018

‘There’s no such thing as a healthy glass of beer or wine’

Tessa Louwerens

Moderate alcohol consumption might have a positive effect on certain cardiovascular diseases, but that does not compensate for the harmful consequences. Healthy drinking remains a myth, according to nutrition professor Ellen Kampman, who specialises in cancer.

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There was a lot of fuss in Dutch media last week. The newspaper de Volkskrant, among others, mentioned that ingesting one alcoholic beverage a day significantly shortens one’s life expectancy, based on research that was published in the authoritative scientific journal The Lancet. A week later, the newspaper backed out: after a thorough investigation of the research outcome, it was found that it was not demonstrable that one lives shorter because of one glass of alcohol a day.

What do you think of the research?
‘It is important and well-executed research. The results of the article in The Lancet agree with the Dutch Dietary Guidelines of the Dutch Health Council. Their advice: “do not drink any alcohol, and certainly not more than one glass per day”. The researchers found that a weekly ingestion of more than 100 grams of alcohol, the risk of mortality rises. A standard measure of alcohol for beer, wine or liquor contains approximately 10 grams of alcohol. That means that you do not reach that amount with one daily glass.’

Shouldn’t we just scratch that one glass as well?
‘There is still debate regarding the relation between alcohol and cardiovascular diseases, but we have long known that alcohol increases the chances of cancer. In the case of breast cancer, this already happens at lower doses than one glass a day. From that point of view, it is better not to drink at all, but the advice became one glass per day at most due to the possible positive effects of alcohol consumption on certain cardiovascular diseases. Very few people realise that alcohol is one of the most carcinogenic substances in our food. It was recently suggested to put warning labels on coffee packaging; I think it would be better to put those on bottles of alcohol!’

‘I think we should get rid of the idea that an alcoholic beverage could be good for you. The best advice remains not to drink at all. The health benefits from that single drink only apply in specific cases: men older than fifty who are overweight and consequently have an increased chance of a heart attack. But as far as I’m concerned, this possible advantage does not outweigh all the nefarious consequences of alcohol ingestion. To reduce the chances of a heart attack, it would be much better to try to live a healthy life instead of drinking alcohol.’