Moderate consumption of alcohol confers little to no health benefit for most people, a new analysis of almost 53,000 adults finds.
The researchers said previous studies that found light alcohol consumption could benefit health were flawed.
Earlier research found light drinking may help protect against early illness and death. Studies found people who have fewer than two drinks daily live longer than those who drink more, or those who don't drink at all.
The author of the new study, Craig Knott of University College London, said the earlier research put former drinkers together with people who never drank, and called them all non-drinkers. That group was compared with light drinkers.
The new study adjusted the results to account for a number of personal, economic, social and lifestyle factors, HealthDay reports.
"Importantly, former drinkers appear to be less healthy and at greater risk of mortality than never drinkers," Knott said. "With existing research having largely grouped former and never drinkers together, there was the possibility that protective effects seen among lighter drinkers may be less a consequence of a real biological relationship and more a statistical artifact arising from their comparison against people who are simply less healthy."
Protective benefits of alcohol were limited to men ages 50 to 64 who said they had an average of 15 to 20 drinks a week, and women 65 and older who had an average of 10 drinks a week, the researchers report in BMJ.
Even among these groups, the benefits were minimal, and might be explained by "section bias"—the concept that people who participate in a study are healthier than those who do not, according to Knott. He noted that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer, liver disease and other illnesses.