Monday, June 15, 2009

Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Heart Health

by Alan

Today's New York Times has an article on the link between moderate alcohol consumption and lower heart disease, and whether health officials should actively recommend a daily drink or two for the public. At a correlational level, the alcohol-heart health relationship appears well established. As the piece in the Times delves into, the lack of true experimentation (in this case via Randomized Clinical Trials) gives skeptics something to hang their hats on. The following are some key excerpts of the article:

For some scientists, the question will not go away. No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death — only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.

“The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right — they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately,” said Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a retired sociologist from the University of California, San Francisco, who has criticized the research. “It’s very hard to disentangle all of that, and that’s a real problem.” ...

“The bottom line is there has not been a single study done on moderate alcohol consumption and mortality outcomes that is a ‘gold standard’ kind of study — the kind of randomized controlled clinical trial that we would be required to have in order to approve a new pharmaceutical agent in this country,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The article goes on to discuss how clinical trials might be designed, but also their potential ethical and logistical difficulties.