The investigators also found that premature death from cancer or heart disease was no higher among the abstainers who had no other health risk factors than it was among low-to-moderate drinkers.
“We were surprised by the large proportion of those who had former alcohol or drug use disorders among the abstainers,” John said.
But in the end, he added, “the majority of alcohol abstainers had severe health risk factors that might explain the greater likelihood to die early, in contrast to the low-to-moderate drinkers.”
John’s advice: “Please do not drink alcohol for health reasons.” If a healthy life is the goal, he added, “the optimum is not to drink alcohol.”
The findings come as little surprise to Lona Sandon, program director of the department of clinical nutrition at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
There is no compelling reason a non-drinker should start using alcohol in order to promote health or reduce risk of disease, she said.
“And for people with high risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer, any amount of alcohol is not recommended,” Sandon added.
But what about all the reported health benefits of red wine?
In an online report, the Mayo Clinic acknowledged that antioxidants in red wine may increase levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, while polyphenols such as resveratrol have been said to help limit blood vessel damage and reduce blood clotting risk.
Could that mean that red wine is the exception to the new advice? So far, the research aiming to prove as much has been inconclusive, according to the Mayo Clinic report.
And Sandon cautioned that when it comes to promoting health, “red wine does not make up for poor diet, and lack of exercise or other healthy habits.”
She recalled a client who was an avid runner.
“She wanted to lose some body fat in hopes to improve her running times,” Sandon said. “She was also drinking red wine on a near daily basis as she believed it to be a healthy habit.”
As it turned out, the woman was actually drinking the equivalent of two to three drinks a day. “At this amount, it is no longer healthy, and the extra calories were not helping her to reach her weight-loss goals,” Sandon said.