By Silvia Casabianca
A few months ago, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warned that “excessive alcohol consumption may not only influence COVID-19 susceptibility and severity, but the broad effects of the pandemic are also likely to lead to excessive alcohol consumption.”
However, there is a culture of drinking in the United States. It has become glamorous to drink at least one or two cups of wine a day. There is almost no movie or TV series where protagonists do not appear enjoying the typical drink.
By the time, some 15 years ago, Nature magazine published studies about the health benefits of drinking two glasses of wine a day, researchers thought they had solved the mystery of the “French paradox.” Why was it that the famous gourmet French cuisine didn’t clog the arteries of French people, despite the fact that its foods were so rich in saturated fats?
The answer seemed to be in the moderate consumption of wine that accompanied the meals. The two-daily-glasses-of-wine benefit came as a very nice fact that apparently clarified the mystery without having to discern other variables that promote health, including the French’s increased eating of fruits and vegetables, and their enjoy-lunch versus fast-food attitude towards food and life.
One thing that concerned me after the report was released was witnessing alcoholics, the kind who can’t exist without their two drinks a day, the kind who would never acknowledge an alcohol dependency, because they seldom get drunk, justifying the rightfulness of their drinking habits on these reports’ and claiming that some daily alcohol would be beneficial.
Referring to studies such as the one published in Nature, the American Heart Association stated that, “No direct comparison trials have been done to determine the specific effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.” Which, in other words refers to the fact that some research goes to press without previous verification.
Interestingly enough, the mentioned research results provided a convenient outlet to the overwhelmed wine industry that was not making enough profit at home or abroad. Let’s remember that France has been one of the most important sources of good wines since the 1300s and the industry’s ups and down affect its economic heart, as wine and spirits are the country’s second-largest export industry.
When you take a closer look, it is easy to find that in many cases, companies or institutions interested in having science backing up their products have no problem subsidizing research that will show health benefits of their food or beverages. In science, a well-formulated hypothesis is rather simple to prove.
Trustworthiness of research may conceivably depend on not only the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data. You might already be familiar with what biases are. Nobody is free of biases. If wanting to prove that a new food or drink or supplement is a panacea, all that is needed is to craft a good hypothesis, formulate a tinted research protocol, hire easy to influence investigators and researcher can arrive at the most favorable conclusions. I agree with those considering research should not be funded by interested parties. Research universities have struggled with the ethical dilemmas posed by receiving funds from private donors and the resulting conflict of interest. They depend on external support to pursue their endeavors, but they know the existence (or even the appearance) of such conflicts can lead to suspicion about their research results.
Conflict of interest also haunts health care professionals, especially those providing nutritional advice. It’s common among food and pharmaceutical industries to provide free samples, furnish meals during professional meetings, pay for travel to medical congresses, pay investigators for enrolling patients in clinical trials, and more.
In a world where everything has become a commodity, professionals and institutions have fallen under increasing public scrutiny.
Information about health matters never seems enough, even though it’s bountiful, and what makes it feel insufficient is not only health sciences advancing at light speed, but also that research results can be contradictory because there is always the influence of the observer’s eye.
What the American Heart Association recommends:
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, meaning an average of one to two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women (One drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.) The American Heart Association warns that drinking more alcohol increases risks of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide, and accidents. Also, it’s not possible to predict for whom alcoholism will become a problem. Given these and other risks, the American Heart Association cautions people NOT to start drinking … if they do not already drink alcohol. Instead, consult your doctor on the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.