The National Institute of Health just announced that they’re conducting a study to determine if moderate drinking is better or worse for your health than complete abstention. There are plenty of anecdotal theories out there saying that a bottle of beer or a glass of wine a day is good for your health. There are even a few studies to back up those claims. But is having one drink per day better than not drinking at all?
The new NIH study plans to follow 8,000 people (all over 50) for six years. The clinical trials will be conducted in Europe, North and South America, and Africa to get a wider sense of drinking habits and lifestyle. Basically, the scientists conducting the study are asking one group to abstain from alcohol completely while the other group consumes one alcoholic beverage per day. They hope to find uncover whether heart disease, strokes, and premature deaths are increased with or without moderate drinking.
This seems like a pretty straightforward study. What’s causing some to question it isn’t its breadth or scope, but the money behind the NIH’s funding. Five alcohol industry titans have donated $100 million to specifically fund this research project. This has made it hard to swallow for experts like Marion Nestle, who has written several books on the subject of corporate money in food science. Nestle told The New York Times, “Industry-sponsored research almost invariably favors the interests of the industry sponsor, even when investigators believe they are immune from such influence.” There is a long history of industry-funded “research” telling consumers that toxins like nicotine or sugar aren’t all that bad. So it’s not without merit to approach this study with a healthy level of skepticism.
The director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Dr. George Kobb, will be overseeing the study. Dr. Kobb refutes Nestle’s claim in this case.
“This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob told The New York Times. “The money from the Foundation for the NIH. has no strings attached.”
Which … isn’t that what they always say?
The scientists behind the study do seem to be acting as transparently as possible. They’ve disclosed that five companies that have donated the money for the research — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Carlsberg. And, according to The New York Times’ own digging, the scientists behind this study have been (mostly) forthcoming in their previous ties to the alcohol industry and the studies they participated in. Harvard, where the trials will be headquartered, has had previous relationships with distillers and Anheuser-Busch when conducting their research — one of which was designed to show the benefits of moderate beer drinking.
In the end, cases like this are murky. Any entity can donate money to the NIH which can then blindly fund huge clinical trials just like this one. But, one has to wonder if the humans involved in those trials are predisposed not to bite the hand that feeds them, as Nestle suggests. Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal, who’s running this trial at Harvard, doesn’t see an issue. “This isn’t anything other than a good old-fashioned N.I.H. trial,” Dr. Mukamal told The New York Times. “We have had literally no contact with anyone in the alcohol industry in the planning of this.”
Time will tell. See you back here in six years!
(Via The New York Times)