National Institutes of Health alcohol study

New $100 million study will aim to finally answer question - "Can drinking alcohol daily help lower your risk for heart attacks, strokes and death?”

lady drinking red wine

There has been so much debate in the health community about whether regular and moderate alcohol drinking is good or bad for your health. It is a hugely controversial subject with some national health bodies like the UK advocating that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption whilst others cite strong clinical evidence from large meta-analysis studies as well as the "French Paradox" that 2-3 glasses of alcohol (and more so wine) is healthy for you and reduces your risk of premature death as well as heart attacks and strokes.

Many media reports and studies from the medical community are contradictory. One minute the press says that alcohol causes cancer, the next day there's another story saying regular drinking prevent Alzheimer's disease and so on.

National institutes of health logo

But new research costing $100 million is hoping to get to the bottom of the moderate drinking debate once and for all. The U.S. based National Institutes of Health will aim to finally answer the question whether daily alcohol drinking can help lower your risk for heart attacks, strokes and death.

8,000 volunteers will be recruited that fit very specific criteria from 16 areas around the world. Half will randomly be selected to have one drink per day, while the other half will have to abstain from drinking during the course of the study. These two groups will be followed for six years (poor abstainers!). The clinical trial will be run by notable researchers from around the world in Boston, Baltimore, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Barcelona to cover all regions of the world.

But the study has already been mired in controversy as it has emerged that Heineken, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg have all contributed to the costs with a total investment of $68 million, given to a foundation raising money for the National Institutes of Health. In addition some have questioned the credentials of some of  the researchers behind the study given they have been involved previously in alcohol manufacturer related studies. But without industry funding, the study will be unlikely to get off the ground given the significant cost.

George F. Koop from the National Institutes of Health said “The study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” ,“The money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no string attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever – no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.”

Pernod Ricard, one of the alcohol companies funding the study, said the company funded the the research because of its scale, “We’ve never seen a study of such scope or calibre,” a spokesperson told the NYT and confirmed that the companies will “have no say” in the research.“We’re hoping the results nevertheless are going to be good. And we’re optimistic they will be.”

All this controversy seems unwarranted given the NIH is a reputable body and any subsequent publications will be peer reviewed by independent scientists. But industry involvement in any health trials are always questioned, most times, unnecessarily after the questionable practices of the tobacco industry in the last century.

A very interesting piece of research indeed. Shame we need to wait 6-7 years for the results and it only looks at drinking at 1 glass per day.