By Guy Bentley
A study that cast doubt on the health benefits of alcohol is itself under fire from scientists for massive bias and omitting critical facts.
“Alcohol: Studies showing benefits of drinking flawed, research warns,” newspapers groaned March 22 following the release of a study from the University of Victoria (UV), Canada.
The study claimed health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption had been overstated and slammed previous research as inaccurate. Lead author and director of UV’s Centre for Addictions Research Dr. Tim Stockwell said the evidence for the benefits of alcohol was poor.
“There is a general idea out there that alcohol is good for us, because that’s what you hear reported all the time, but there are many reasons to be skeptical,” said Stockwell. “Many people believe a glass of wine with dinner will help them live longer and healthier, but the scientific evidence is shaky at best.”
Stockwell’s study finds no association between moderate alcohol use and longer lifespan, nor did it analyze different types of alcohol such as red wine.
Stockwell and his colleagues examined 87 previous studies to come to their conclusion, which was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. While that might sound like a lot, Stockwell is being hammered for selecting a drop in the ocean of the available evidence on health benefits of alcohol.
“This is the second attempt by the same group of researchers to disprove the beneficial relationship between light to moderate alcohol consumption and cardiovascular health. As described below, the first attempt (Fillmore et al, in 2006) was discredited by reanalysis of the studies.
“Reanalysis showed it to be biased, as repeat studies adjusting for the claimed bias still showed a cardioprotective effect for regular light to moderate alcohol consumption,” said Clinical Pharmacologist Creina Stockley.
“In this new paper, Stockwell et al have again biased their meta-analysis by ‘cherry picking’ a small number of studies for their meta-analysis – they discarded 2,575 studies and analysed only 87. The studies that they analysed related reported intake to disease, but they carefully avoided hundreds of validated studies that showed reduced disease among moderate drinkers.
“Stockwell et al seem to have deliberately pretended that the many animal and human studies over the past four decades that have provided extensive evidence for the biological mechanisms supporting the findings that light to moderate alcohol consumption is cardioprotective do not exist.”
Fellow member of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research (ISFAR) Harvey Finkel was just as damning. “We are all tired of having to counter the same self-serving polemics over and over again with unperturbed demeanor.”
“Science happens when you examine a hypothesis and use experiments to contest it,” added Erik Skovenberg, a member of the Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board. “Non-science is what happens when you believe a hypothesis and quote all the evidence you can to support it, while ignoring the rest.”
In total, 14 members of the 47-strong ISFAR offered critical comments of Stockwell’s study and the body itself delivered a devastating verdict on Stockwell’s findings.
“The Forum concludes that the overwhelming body of observational scientific data, as well as an immense number of experimental studies, support the contention that, for most middle-aged and older men and women who choose to do so, the regular consumption of small amounts of an alcoholic beverage can be considered as one component of a ‘healthy lifestyle.’ Such a habit has been shown to be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and of total mortality.”