The Lancet says that zero booze is the healthiest lifestyle - Oh Aye?

The Lancet really surprises with the news that even a little sip of the Demon Booze is the Very Devil:

Overall, the study, which pooled data from 592 studies with 28 million participats, linked alcohol to almost 3 million deaths globally.

The research found it was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease - and the leading cause of death before the age of 50. 

Researchers said the analysis found no safe level of alcoholic consumption, suggesting that going teetotal was the only way to avoid associated health risks. 

Given that this result is entirely different from everything anyone else has ever found out about booze then well, why? Sure, science does indeed say that new evidence outweighs, disproves, old theories. But that evidence had better be pretty good - the larger the claim the better the evidence needs to be.

We have to say that we're not convinced here. And do note that this is tentative as yet, this critique being possibly subject to later revision.


Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for disease burden worldwide, accounting for nearly 10% of global deaths among populations aged 15–49 years, and poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today. The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none. This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day. Alcohol use contributes to health loss from many causes and exacts its toll across the lifespan, particularly among men. Policies that focus on reducing population-level consumption will be most effective in reducing the health loss from alcohol use.

That is startlingly different from everything else we think we know about the effects of alcohol. So, why?

What intrigues us is the chart of deaths for the US. Page 2085 (yes, really) here. It lists those causes of death which are - usually that is, whether rightly or wrongly - said to be caused by alcohol consumption. What it doesn't do is list all causes of death. Reading from this listing of the leading US causes of death we note that pneumonia and Alzheimer's aren't there, while they are leading causes of death.

As above, this is tentative. But what it looks like to us is that they've added up all the deaths and diseases which could be attributable to alcohol. OK. And those rise monotonically with alcohol consumption. OK. And they've not looked at all causes of death to see whether alcohol consumption reduces the death rate from any other causes. That being the original claim in the first place, that yes of course booze causes problems even as it also salves some others.

It's as if someone looks at the effects of exercise and notes the costs in twisted ankles and strained backs but not the benefits in strengthened hearts and lower weights.

Again, as we say, this critique of ours is subject to revision as those who know more than we do pile in. But we're deeply, deeply, unconvinced of the finding here.  Perhaps the worst of it is that we know very well that there's a political movement to insist that no one should drink at all. We've seen other "research" making similar howlers to try and bolster that case. Meaning that we don't think we can trust research which produces results so amenable to that political campaign.

The entire field is so polluted by policy based evidence making that we assume that this is such. A pity really, as The Lancet did do science at one time but that well has rather been polluted.

Chris Snowdon's take is here.