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Deception in Reporting About Alcohol's Benefits

Report's of Wine's Benefits Go Unchallenged by Media

June Russell is a former health educator, a researcher and writer who has done extensive research into the health effects of alcohol. She submitted the following article for the Alcoholism / Substance Abuse site.

By June Russell

When the media reports a study showing alcohol as healthy, I would encourage the reading of the original study, editorial comments and additional information about the study, to determine the health and safety of that daily - even an occasional - glass or two of wine, or some other alcoholic beverage.

Most individuals, even health professionals, do not take the time to check out the accuracy of the reports, so they go unchallenged. Often it is not revealed that the study was funded by the alcohol industry.

Press releases regularly omit the dangers of smaller amounts of alcohol consumption, suggesting that it is only when drinking heavily, or excessive that there is risk. Alcohol experts and drug awareness agencies tell us alcohol use is dose-related, in other words, though smaller amounts are less dangerous there is still harm - even with a single drink.

Not Concerned With Accuracy

Those who benefit from the sale of alcohol are less concerned with the accuracy of the reports on alcohol than with quantity of wine and beer sold.

Drinking is on the rise among women in general, and increasing numbers of younger women drink and drive as they have found more freedom - and perhaps more encouragement to drink. Alcohol interferes with the metabolism of vitamins and nutrients, and the breakdown of alcohol, acetaldehyde, is toxic, especially to sperm and testes.

It only takes a small amount of alcohol to impair inhibitions, judgement, and decision making, and the effects on the brain carry over until the next day. When encouraged to ‘have a drink to relax’ keep in mind that the result of an alcoholic drink is not true relaxation, but being ‘drugged’ or ‘tranquilized.’

Alcohol and the Risks of Cancer

Even smaller amounts of alcohol use is strongly implicated in breast cancer (just a half-a-glass of wine almost doubles the level of estrogen in women on ERT), and alcohol also increases the risk of other cancers. According to a study in the British Medical Journal, drinking as little as one alcoholic beverage a day can raise the risk of mouth, throat and esophageal cancer (7-10 drinks a week increases the risk 3 times).

In 2000 our government declared alcoholic beverages to be a class "A" human carcinogen, along with arsenic, asbestos, benzene, tobacco, etc., and the ‘French Paradox’ was disproved by WHO years ago because of faulty data, yet the media has not publicized either of these important facts - facts needed if individuals are to make healthier choices.

Misinformation and Bias

Here are just a few examples of the misinformation and bias in the studies, or in the reporting of the studies.

In the New England Journal of Medicine (Jan. 2002), there was a study that attributed the frequency of alcohol use to a reduced risk of a heart attack. However, in the editorial comments in the same journal Dr. Ira Goldberg, M.D., revealed that the alcohol group tested was more physical active, had a higher vitamin E intake, less diabetes, and a lower intake of trans- and saturated fats, which would have skewed the results in their favor. Dr. Goldberg’s comment was that the data on alcohol and cardiovascular is not well established but the toxicity of alcohol is well established, and alcohol use does not show a reduction in overall mortality.

A study in JAMA (2003), said that one to six alcoholic drinks per week resulted in a lower risk of dementia, yet researchers in this same study also warned that "even moderate alcohol consumption may have effects that increase dementia risk." The study also warned that blood alcohol levels as low as .02% impairs driving ability, and moderate alcohol use is associated with a greater risk of cerebral hemorrhage.

Alcohol and Dementia

More caveats from other sources about dementia: The hippocampus is a key area for learning and memory, and moderate amounts of alcohol disrupt hippocampus function (Hippocampus). There is a decreased cognitive functioning in men and women who socially drink an average of three or more drinks a week ("Contemporary Drug Problems," 1994, by Mary Dufour, M.D.), and according to the American Heart Association (2001), every drink is associated with greater brain shrinkage.

A study in 2000, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that the nonalcoholic wine was reportedly healthier than the alcohol version, because in the nonalcoholic wine the level of the antioxidant, catechin, remained higher for a longer period of time. Several studies show that it is not the alcohol that prevents heart attacks, but most likely the bioflavinoids. One study showed a higher incidence of heart attacks in those who drank the alcohol without the bioflavinoids, than those drank the alcohol with the bioflavinoids. So to live longer, get the flavinoids without the alcohol.

It's the Healthier Lifestyle

We are consistently told that wine drinkers, in general, have a healthier lifestyle because they have a higher intake of fruits, fish and vegetables, and tend not to use fats on bread, and use olive oil for cooking more frequently. Those who drink wine are also more likely to be nonsmokers, have normal cholesterol, eat fewer servings of red or fried meats, ingest more fiber and less alcohol, have more wealth and have better access to health care. Many researchers attribute the high levels of antioxidants in wine for the health benefits reported in studies, but often warn of the increased risks to one’s health from the alcohol.

A study in the July 2002 issue of The British Medical Journal found that the death rates for young adults and middle-aged women increase with the amount of alcohol they consumed, even as little as one drink per week.

Faulty Research Methods

Several much publicized studies have suggested that abstainers are at greater risk of mortality than light drinkers, but according to a study in "Addiction," this is not true. Previous studies had lumped together former alcoholics and long-term abstainers together in the category of nondrinkers. A new analysis of ten of those previous studies found that those who were former drinkers (male) were more likely to be heavier smokers and marijuana users, depressed, unemployed, and have a lower socioeconomic status, compared with long-term abstainers. Women who were former drinkers were also more likely to be heavier smokers and in poorer health.

In 2002, moderate alcohol was announced as beneficial for those who are diabetic. Wake Forest University School of Medicine challenged the study because of the omission of one of the main risk factors, weight/body mass index, and showed by doing another study that when this weight/body mass was included, there was no benefit. (This is an example of how studies can omit important variables and still claim it’s validity because it was a double blind, placebo controlled, randomized study).

Failed to Report Warnings

A study by the University of Buffalo (2002) reported that wine was associated with better lung function, and although the improvement was attributed to the antioxidants in the wine, the media failed to report that the researchers warned of resulting oxidative stress. Other less publicized but equally valid studies show that wine consumption makes the lung liable to injury and increases the risk of allergic reactions.

Evidence has been accumulating that shows those with high CRP levels (C-reactive protein) are twice as likely to die from a heart attack or stroke, more so than from LDL cholesterol. Reports suggested that alcohol, particularly wine, could lower CRP. However, Irving Kushner, M.D., a long time expert in this area stated in the Archives of Internal Medicine that alcohol use (low or high) can increase the levels of CRP, but the range of ‘low’ or ‘high’ can vary greatly, leaving individuals unsure of just how much alcohol would put them at risk.

Promotes Inflammation

Alcohol is known to promote inflammation, and alcohol use increases cytokines (which are substances produced by the liver cells and the immune system in response to infection or cell damage). In Jan. 2003, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that it is not clear that reducing CRP levels lower the risk of cardiovascular events, and it is not known whether CRP levels themselves are causing the problem, or if they are merely a marker for increased risk. There is no need for testing to become an accepted practice because large numbers of people could be needlessly alarmed and a great deal of money unnecessarily spent on tests, office visits and medications.

Although we hear reports that light and moderate alcohol consumption diminishes the chance of a stroke, this is true of ischemic strokes (TIA or blockage in a brain artery). However, the media rarely, if ever, reports that even light drinking increases the chance of a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding or leakage of blood in brain). There are more instances of ischemic strokes, but the hemorrhagic strokes do more damage.

Grape Juice Does the Job

There is yet another 2003 study that suggests wine is healthy because of resveratrol's longevity effect on yeast cells. However, a Newsweek article on this study reported that resveratrol, an antioxidant, degrades quickly in both glass and in the body. John Foltz, Ph.D., Director of the Coronary Thrombosis Research Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, stated that wine only prevents clotting at levels high enough for the wine drinker to be declared legally drunk, adding that grape juice does the job without the dangers of the alcohol.

The presence of alcohol hastens the breakdown of antioxidants in the blood, speeding their elimination from the body.

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