THURSDAY, March 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Many previous studies suggesting that moderate drinking helps prevent heart disease may be flawed, says a report by a group of researchers from Australia, Canada and the United States.
They analyzed 54 studies that looked at the association between drinking and risk of premature death from all causes, including heart disease. The new report concluded that many of those studies did not account for the effects of age and illness that make abstainers have higher death rates than moderate drinkers.
The researchers investigated suspicions that many of the abstainers included in these studies were actually people who'd reduced or quit drinking due to declining health, frailty, medication use or disability. They found that only seven of the 54 studies included only long-term non-drinkers in the abstainers' group. Those seven studies found no difference in death risk between abstainers and moderate drinkers.
The findings appear online in advance of the May issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory.
"The widely held belief that light or moderate drinking protects against coronary heart disease has had great influence on alcohol policy and clinical advice of doctors to their patients throughout the world. These findings suggest that caution should be exerted in recommending light drinking to abstainers because of the possibility that this result may be more apparent than real," researcher Tim Stockwell, of the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, said in a prepared statement.
"We know that older people who are light drinkers are usually healthier than their non-drinking peers. Our research suggests light drinking is a sign of good health, not necessarily its cause. Many people reduce their drinking as they get older for a variety of health reasons," Kaye Fillmore, of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing, added in a prepared statement.
The researchers cautioned that their report doesn't disprove the idea that light drinking is good for health, because too few error-free studies have been performed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol and health.