The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has released an important postition paper in the US on drinking, which will serve as the National Institute of Health’s formal position on the health risks and potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
The paper was commissioned in support of the 2005 update of the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines, due to be completed in August this year.
The report makes several important statements: Namely that: There is no raised risk of heart attack or ischemic stroke from moderate drinking and ‘provides protective effects in terms of coronary heart disease among older individuals and those otherwise at risk for heart disease’.
Moderate consumption ‘does appear to be associated with a reduced risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome (which often co-exist with or develop from obesity)’.
Low to moderate drinking during pregnancy ‘does not appear to be associated with an increased risk of fetal physical malformations, but may have behavioural or neuro-cognative consequences.... therefore there is no threshold below which consumption may be safe during pregnancy’.
The consumption of one drink (14g) a day ‘appears to be associated with a 10% increase in the risk of breast cancer’, but ‘women may want to weigh this lifetime increase in risk against a potential reduction of heart disease risk over the same time span, especially as heart disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 45’.
The report emphasises the importance of drinking patterns, where by the message of little and often should be promoted and the importance of accounting for one’s own size, weight, sex, genetic susceptibility, life style factors, metabolic rate and age in balancing the pros and cons of drinking. ‘Protective and detrimental levels of alcohol consumption cannot be generalised across the population but instead should be determined by an individual in consultation with her or his health care provider’.
In a separate statement, the NIAAA has redefined its definitions of ‘binge’ or ‘risky’ drinking as the number of drinks that takes your BAC above .08, or the drink-drive limit. They calculate this would mean five or more drinks in a two hour period for and average male, or four or more drinks for an average female.
On a less positive note the NIAAA released an Alcohol Education Curricula for teachers which appears less balanced. It categorises any consumption - even at mealtimes with parents, of those under 21 as ‘abuse’. It does acknowledge alcohol’s role in social, medical cultural and religious settings over the centuries, but states that alcohol being good for your health is a ‘misconception’ and that the positive and negative effects of consumption should be counter balanced.