Alcohol fables and other fabrications

There are a lot of reports about alcohol in the media. Sometimes such a message is complete nonsense, but we would like to believe it. In this article, Rob Bovens, research leader at the Tranzo research institute at Tilburg University, explains persistent myths that we can't seem to get rid of.

Why we believe some positive reports about alcohol (in many cases fables) has to do with the fact that people like to drink. Just think of that red wine that would be good for the heart and blood vessels. Small talk, therefore, but talk that is remembered. Such good news about alcohol often lacks the nuances of scientific research.

Myth: One glass of wine a day is better for your health than not drinking

“This is often said based on perhaps the most highly cited study on alcohol and health by University of Calgary Paul Ronksley in 2011. But this study was wrong. Firstly, the results only applied to a very limited group of participants: men aged 40 to 50 and women immediately after the menopause, who also ate a very healthy diet. And more importantly: the control group – ie the people who did not drink – turned out to be many ex-alcoholic addicts. Although they no longer drank, they still lived an unhealthy life, had lived an unhealthy life or were on medication that prohibits drinking. That distorted the picture.”

Myth: Alcohol is good for heart and blood vessels

“It used to be said that a small amount of alcohol would be good, but more recent research shows that this statement is no longer tenable. Drinking a lot of alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, which greatly increases the risk of a heart attack and further increases the risk of cardiac arrhythmias.”

Myth: If you drink a glass during the day, you have an alcohol problem

“Not by definition, but it is more nuanced. The point is: what role does alcohol play in your life? What does alcohol do to you? Do you need it to relax after a busy day? If you compulsively walk to the fridge every afternoon to grab a beer or pour a glass of wine – you may wonder why you are doing that.” 

Myth/Fact (undecided): Drink makes you demented

“Science says that little alcohol protects against dementia and that excessive drinking actually has a harmful effect. But the last word has not yet been said. The combination dementia and alcohol is in any case not a good combination. When people with dementia have one drink, they forget that they had also had a drink shortly before, and again after that. But opinions are divided on whether people also become demented from drinking.”

Myth: Alcohol stimulates a good sex life

“Perhaps alcohol induces the lust, because you loosen up. But in principle you perform worse in bed with alcohol.”

Myth: Men have a harder time leaving their drink than women

“Our research shows that women find it more difficult to cut down than men. Why? Again, this is about the function that alcohol plays in their lives. In women, alcohol is more integrated into everyday life; a glass of wine 'belongs' to conviviality and social activities. While cooking, having lunch with friends: these are things you already do. This often works differently for men; they usually drink at events that are not always or every day, such as watching football*.”

*The above does of course not apply to every man or woman. This is what emerges from our research.

Source: / Interview: Marieke van Twillert





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