There’s a pretty broad spectrum of beliefs when it comes to drinking alcohol. Some people occasionally imbibe, others grab a drink at the end of every hard day, and still others have never touched a drop in their lives.
Still others have health or lifestyle concerns that keep them from drinking, even if they would like to.
No matter where you fall on this spectrum, you likely have some thoughts on how unhealthy – or otherwise – your drinking is for your body.
New research, though, says you should be careful about claiming any actual health benefits from drinking alcohol.
Well, many of the studies that find those benefits are funded by alcohol companies, for one thing, so that’s clearly a conflict of interest.
Recently, scientists from the University of York sifted through thousands of alcohol-related studies and found that the increase in funding by alcohol companies has trended up by about 56% over the past decade.
In 2016, a study that claimed “a pint of beer a day could protect you from heart attacks” made headlines. The study was peer-reviewed, and had found that moderate beer drinking might hold some benefits for the cardiovascular system.
The study, however, was funded by an Italian beer trade association.
The team identified over 11,000 similar studies, and though the people paying for the research is always mentioned somewhere, most write-ups fail to mention it.
Dr. Su Golder, one of the researchers on the study, released this statement:
“Our study identified a worrying trend – while there has been a steep decline in the alcohol industry conducting its own research on health, at the same time there has been an increase in the alcohol industry funding such research by providing financial support to researchers or via alcohol-related organizations. This allows alcohol companies to exploit a ‘transparency loophole’ as many people assume these organizations are charities and don’t realize the connection to the industry.”
Just because the study is funded by an alcohol company doesn’t necessarily mean the research isn’t valid, but it is something to consider, says study co-author Jim McCambridge.
“While researchers are meant to declare funders in peer-reviewed research publications, this often doesn’t happen and we don’t get the level of transparency we should have.”
He adds that while industry-funded research is nothing new, we would do well to remember that they have skin in the game, so to say, and can find any small, insignificant portion of the findings to support their claim that their product could have positive benefits.
“It is well know that by sponsoring research pharmaceutical and tobacco companies successfully conspired to subvert the scientific evidence-base in order to influence policy for decades and so, while more research is needed, the scale, nature, and breadth of the alcohol industry’s influence on scientific research provides cause for concern.”
Basically, whenever you read a scientific article, do so with a heavy dose of analytical skepticism by your side.
And, you know, remember to read the footnotes.