Drink guidelines ‘based on flawed research’

Scotland's thirst is unquenchable at the capital's Hogmanay party. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Scotland's thirst is unquenchable at the capital's Hogmanay party. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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NEW evidence that shows even a small amount of alcohol can contribute to heart disease has prompted calls for government drinking guidelines to be tightened.

Previous research that suggested an occasional glass of wine or beer could be beneficial for the heart has been dismissed as “flawed” by the Scottish scientist leading a NHS advisory group on preventing heart disease.

Professor Naveed Sattar of Glasgow University told Scotland on Sunday that the latest evidence, which will be published in the spring, carried out testing that showed drinking any alcohol can be responsible for some people developing heart disease. “We are looking at new evidence that even small amounts of alcohol may not prevent against heart disease and may in fact be harmful,” he said.

“If people think drinking wine or beer will protect their heart, evidence is not solid on this at all. Some people think it is okay to have a second glass of wine. They think ‘this is good for my heart’, but new evidence does not support this.”

Sattar heads the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network group, which develops clinical guidelines for the NHS in Scotland and is now looking at changing drinking guidelines in light of the fresh evidence.

He said current guidelines are based on research that fails to take into account that many people who describe themselves as teetotal don’t drink because they are already unwell and at higher risk of death – so called “sick quitters”.

Sattar criticised the “misleading” evidence currently used, adding: “We have relied on this evidence for decades but it might be flawed. As part of discussing new guidelines we are looking at new types of evidence.

“As a national health policy we need to help people take control of their own health – it’s not about a nanny state. We need more teetotallers and youngsters to be exposed to alcohol at a much older age.

“In Scotland there is a culture where drinking is more acceptable. Twice as many people in Scotland drink than in England.

“Alcohol contains a lot of calories – wine contains more calories than Coca-Cola – and moderating your alcohol intake would help cut down on calorie consumption.

“It’s pretty obvious that lots of people in Scotland are struggling with alcohol and we have many proven ways to improve heart health – alcohol is not one of them,” he said

Last night health campaigners backed calls for new guidelines highlighting the dangers of drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol.

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “Unless society starts to take this seriously and acknowledges the health problems too much alcohol can cause, the situation will only get worse and the NHS will continue to strain under the burden of alcohol harm.”

Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical advisor for alcohol education charity Drinkaware added: “There is no evidence that drinking above government guidelines provides any benefit to the heart – men who drink heavily are more than 60 per cent more likely to die from heart disease, and the risk to women is more than doubled”

But Eben Wilson, from campaign group TaxpayerScotland, said people should be allowed to make their own choices when it comes to drinking.

He said: “Do we really need health officials to attempt to impose prohibition? History tells us that trying to curb drinking suffers from seriously diminishing returns and unintended bad consequences.

“Once again we see that a totally free NHS with no social insurance element opens a never ending crusade of do- gooders trying to make us all perfect through strictures and coercion. We should allow individuals to make their own choices but pay for their bad behaviour when they need help. Could it be time for NHS charges to be imposed for care for self-imposed harms?”.

Maureen Watt, Scottish Government minister for public health, said safer drinking guidelines were currently under review.

She added: “We know the damaging effects that excessive alcohol consumption can have on your health – every drink adds up and over time can lead to serious health problems such as an increased risk of high blood pressure, chronic liver disease and breast cancer.

“The safer drinking guidelines are in place to help people drink responsibly.”