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A couple of days ago I posted I experiment with creating a habit. The statistics seem to indicate that a small amount of alcohol is better for health and longevity than total abstinence from alcohol. The data didn’t appear to exclude those people who have the self-control to not submit to their addiction to alcohol, but I think they should be excluded. With those who developed an addiction to alcohol or any other addiction, a single tiny relapse often results, in a short time, to a complete re-addiction.

My personal experience with this addiction problem is with cigarettes. I quit many times for over a month, and then assumed I had broken the addiction and could smoke a single cigarette after a meal. I do enjoy that kind of smoking, but that single cigarette caused me to fail every time, and a month later I would be smoking a pack a day again. Finally, I admitted to myself that I am a cigarette addict and thus can not have a single one … ever, without becoming addicted again. I’ve been successful with that coping strategy with my cigarette addiction for over forty years.

Fortunately, I am not addicted to alcohol, and I don’t want to become addicted to alcohol, but a small amount of alcohol does seem to maintain health and help in maximizing healthy longevity. The material available several years ago seemed to indicate that approximately a single drink per day was near optimum. So, I sip a little whiskey every day. The graph below appears to prove that assumption.

Alcohol consumption and life risk

The hazard rate ratio of various diseases based on alcohol consumption

Image from Public Health Expert, University of Otago, New Zealand

From the graph above it appears that the bottom point average of the eight curves is 13 g. That is 13 grams of pure alcohol per day. That quantity conforms well to the WHO suggestions below for the maximum permissible for any day where a drink is taken. On the chart above all of the hazards are improving up to twenty-two grams per day except for coronary heart disease. Unfortunately, that’s a great exception because coronary heart disease is at the very top of the causes of death list: WHO’s Top ten causes of death.

 


World Health Organization (WHO) / Health topics / Data and statistics  / Do you drink too much? Test your own alcohol consumption with the AUDIT test / AUDIT /

There is some disagreement between WHO and New Zealand as to what one drink means. It might be 10 grams of pure alcohol or 13 grams, but looking at the hazard ratio chart above that wouldn’t make a significant difference.


For example (approximate values as defined by WHO):

  • 1 can beer (330 ml) at 5% x (strength) 0.79 (conversion factor) = 13 g of pure alcohol
  • 1 glass wine (140ml) at 12% x 0.79 = 13.3 g of pure alcohol
  • 1 shot spirits (40 ml) at 40% x 0.79 = 12.6 g of pure alcohol

But the WHO recommends not drinking any alcohol. NONE! They admit that people will drink, so they put a maximum that is similar to the recommended amount from the New Zealand research. That seems to conflict directly with the data from the University of Otago, New Zealand, as shown in the graph above. The curves on every one of the health hazards studied there, except coronary heart disease, show a lessening of risk at ten grams per day of alcohol consumption, or thirteen grams. Above that amount of alcohol, the curves of risk with more drinking get worse, but they don’t cross over the index line of a non-drinker until about three drinks per day. Thus, there is a huge difference between the two authoritative reports.

Who do we choose to follow? It would appear to me that if you don’t have any cardiovascular problem, which most people do have, then it is okay, even better to have about one standard drink per day with food. But, if you are of average health you should follow WHO’s advice and should never drink any alcohol. 

One important thing these statistics didn’t mention is the concentration of drinking time. Surely, drinking three drinks just after work at a bar and then driving home is worse than a drink with lunch, a drink with dinner, and a drink with popcorn in the evening when watching TV. Spreading the drinking throughout the day, and diluting the alcohol with some food would probably keep the benefits and lessen the risks.

I have been drinking less than 13 grams of pure alcohol per day and today I repeatedly measured my usual sip as 4 grams whiskey which by WHOs measure is 4 x 40% = 1.6 grams. I do that an average of approximately five times per day. Thus, I have been drinking about 8 grams of alcohol per day.

I’ll just keep doing what I do.