Vice Squad
Friday, November 02, 2007
Alcohol's Health Benefits

It has become common knowledge that alcohol consumption brings some benefit in terms of improved cardiovascular health. But Phil Cook's Paying the Tab reminds us that it once was common knowledge that Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) had similar heart benefits -- and when the results of an actual controlled trial came in, it turned out that HRT raised the risk of heart attacks. The beneficial effects noticed earlier were due, it seems, to biased samples: women who went through HRT had characteristics that made them healthier than women who did not. Could the alcohol story be similar? After all, as Cook notes, Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign did not seem to bring on a crisis in Soviet cardiovascular health -- rather the opposite, actually. In the end, Cook (page 119) does not argue that the health benefit for middle-aged people from moderate alcohol consumption is illusory -- only that "the evidence is far from definitive."

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