Past studies have produced evidence that light drinking has a protective effect on the heart, but there is also research which shows that it can increase the risk of cancer. In an effort to pinpoint the amount of low-level drinking that is detrimental to health, researchers set out to investigate the link between daily alcohol use and mortality.
The study was focused on 340,668 individuals from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and 93,653 individuals from the Veterans Health Administration (VA) outpatient medical records.
The researchers compared self-reported alcohol use to mortality incidence, which had been documented during follow-ups. The study revealed that individuals with the least risk of death were those who drank one or two beverages 3 times per week.
“The minimum risk of low‐level drinking frequency for all‐cause mortality appears to be approximately 3 occasions weekly,” wrote the researchers. “The robustness of this finding is highlighted in 2 distinctly different data sets: a large epidemiological data set and a data set of veterans sampled from an outpatient clinic. Daily drinking, even at low levels, is detrimental to one’s health.”
The findings of the study are adding to a growing collection of studies which suggest that no amount of alcohol is safe. The research also contradicts the common belief that a glass of wine a day is beneficial to heart health.
Study co-author Dr. Sarah Hartz is an assistant professor of Psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine.
“The cutoff seems to be that we shouldn’t drink more than three times a week,” said Dr. Hartz. “The frequency of drinking does matter, in the same way that taking a medicine matters. If you take a medicine once a week, it impacts you differently than if you take a medicine every day.”
Dr. Hart suggested that abstaining from alcohol is not necessarily the only way to be healthy, but that people need to re-evaluate the way they perceive alcohol.
“I drink recreationally, and my main take-home is that I can’t think of it as a healthy behavior,” said Dr. Hartz. “This isn’t like smoking, where you should immediately quit. It’s bad for you, but we do a lot of things that are bad for us. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking this is a healthy behavior.”
The study is published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.