As a woman I was delighted to hear the news of the new recommended drinking limits. I can still drink my 14 units a week, no problem. My husband who, with respect, weighs considerably more than me and can therefore drink me under the table, was less happy. What isn’t clear is why the UK is now out of kilter with every other nation where the guidelines allow men to drink roughly twice as much as women; largely because men’s alcohol processing enzymes are twice as efficient as women’s. Lucky them.
What is just as surprising is that Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies’ basic message is that there is no safe level of drinking.
Speaking to leading science writer Tony Edwards author of The Good News about Booze which is the seminal work on the relationship between alcohol and health says that ‘the irony is that if people who already drink within the old guidelines do follow her advice and completely stop drinking, their risk of disease and premature death will increase…. Medical studies now running into many hundreds and published in the worlds top journals say that providing you don’t go overboard on the booze, drinking will help you live a longer and healthier life.” He goes on to say, “Heart disease is the number one killer and and the number one medicine for preventing it is a moderate daily intake of alcohol according to hundreds of medical studies.”
Edwards suggests that the committee missed some major pieces of unequivocal evidence in coming to their conclusions. One is that when alcohol is tested in clinical trials it increases HDL (good) cholesterol and reduces blood clotting and the inflammatory markers associated with heart disease. Other pieces of hard evidence show that moderate drinkers have lower risks of dementia, strokes caused by blood clots, arthritis, obesity, prostrate problems, kidney stones and even the common cold.
In 1948 when the NHS was created the doctors regularly prescribed alcohol but in 1987 the Royal College of Physicians wrote a paper on alcohol describing it in the well known scientific term of ‘evil’ and it’s been downhill ever since. Guidelines were created then under the guise of alcohol is bad for you but if you must drink, limit it to 14/21 units a day, and the announcement this week is broadly the same in but with intakes being lower.
Alcohol has now well and truly been demonized by the medical health profession and they have made the evidence tell the story that they want it to. But what is it that is so flawed in our society that they came up with the conclusions that there is no safe amount of alcohol that you can drink?
Binge drinking. For sure. The culture of throwing it large on a Saturday night and creating havoc in the streets. Definitely. The millions of pounds spent by the NHS treating those that have been injured or harmed by alcohol. Absolutely. But while this is the group of people that should listen up, the new recommended drinking limits will not reach this group because they aren’t the listening kind.
So it’s yet another futile government ‘recommendation’ based on misguided information that won’t save the NHS any money and won’t help us change our binge drinking ways.
So what should the drinks industry do to defend itself now that it has been deliberately demonized so that it can’t fight it’s own battle. Who will listen to us? Dame Sally Davies has quite literally beaten the credibility out of the industry so that all it can sound like is a bunch of evil handed crack cocaine dealers pushing drugs at the school gates and whining when the teachers tell us to stop.
So what might this mean for alcohol sales in the UK? The industry is already doing a good job at self-regulation with alcohol sales falling from their peak in 2004. And the industry deserves commendation for its efforts in voluntarily reducing the strength of drinks as per the Responsibility Deal and highlighting the health implications of excessive drinking. Should we expect consumers to change their habits based on this report and its half-baked recommendations?
Dare we hope that the UK population is smart enough to see through it for what it is; an ill thought through, incompetent and somewhat sinister anti-alcohol piece of propaganda. With UK consumers already becoming increasingly watchful over their alcohol intake they are unlikely to appreciate being dictated to in this manner and I would hope that they will dismiss the guidelines as unworkable and irrelevant.
Let’s hope that those who are involved in the drinks industry can work together to keep the show on the road. While the government is probably willing us to all implode in a barrage of liver disease, we should take heart in the fact that there is irrefutable medical evidence which shows if we carry on drinking moderately we’ll live a whole lot longer than those who don’t drink at all.