A study that became virulent last week concluded that there is no safe amount of alcohol, which causes some people to ask whether they should continue to enjoy a beer after work.
But do not rinse your liquor cupboard yet.
Some experts say the research has been taken out of context and claim that moderate drinking can still have health benefits.
The report, published in The Lancet, was a meta-analysis of nearly 700 data sources that examined alcohol consumption in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016.
The study looked at how alcohol affected the risk of health consequences such as heart disease, cancer, car accidents, injuries, and noncommunicable diseases.
The authors of the study concluded that alcohol is one of the leading risk factors for death and disability and that in 2016 it is responsible for almost 3 million deaths worldwide.
They came to the conclusion that no amount of alcohol is drinkable.
To drink or not to drink
The recommendation sounds serious. Does it mean that everyone should stop drinking?
"This study was urgently needed to further advance the evidence we already have [about the risks of alcohol use]Said Dr. Kim Templeton, professor of orthopedic surgery and health policy and management at the University of Kansas Health System. "But we need to be very careful about how we interpret and analyze population-based data. The conclusion that the optimal level of alcohol consumption is zero is based on population data, but it is difficult to extrapolate to a specific patient. "
Templeton told Healthline that a variety of factors such as age, family history and overall health contribute to someone being exposed to alcohol risk.
While alcohol can be harmful to some people, it can actually provide protective benefits for others.
A recent study in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, found that moderate drinking (defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one drink per day for women and two for men) could prolong your life.
In another Circulation report, researchers said there are more than 60 prospective studies showing that mild to moderate alcohol use reduces the likelihood of heart disease – the leading cause of death in the United States.
"Do not start drinking just to reduce your cardiovascular risk, but if you're an elderly woman with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the occasional drink you have could reduce that risk," said Templeton.
It can also be problematic to consider global data when making health recommendations for a particular country.
Global data interpretation
For example, the Lancet study looked at the impact of alcohol consumption on tuberculosis risk if it recommended avoiding alcohol.
However, in 2016, there were only 9,272 cases of tuberculosis in the United States.
Although alcohol reduction can bring about some reduction in the 2.79 million annual tuberculosis cases in India, this is unlikely in countries with low rates of morbidity.
"We do not have to worry about tuberculosis in the US We have to be very careful when we start collecting data from around the world and generalizing it to the patient population in each country," Dr. Tiffany Sizemore, a Certified Body Cardiologist and Medical Advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council.
"According to the study, Italy has about the same prevalence of drinking as the United States," said Sizemore, "but life expectancy in Italy is one of the highest in the world and we should ask what these countries do right, not what we do wrong "
Heavy alcohol consumption is still a problem
The headlines that emerged from the Lancet study recommendations may have attracted attention, but no one argues that more than moderate drinking is healthy behavior.
According to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2015, about one-third of the US adult population admitted alcohol abuse and alcohol consumption last month.
Almost anyone who has gone to a bar with friends can confirm how fast one or two drinks can become.
The Lancet Report serves as a good reminder to be aware of the risks of heavy drinking.
"I'm not going to say that we should stop drinking altogether, although that's the proposal from the study, but we need to think more about when we drink and how much we drink, and understand that every time we drink "Health risks exist," said Dr. Alexis Halpern, emergency physician at New York-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Halpern, Templeton and Sizemore agree that the best way to assess the risk of alcohol-related health problems is to talk with your doctor about your lifestyle, family health history and other factors in providing guidance.
As far as the Lancet study is concerned, it is a useful tool for policymakers and public health officials, but it simply does not provide enough specific data to make recommendations at the individual level, experts say.
"We should promote a healthy lifestyle and a healthy life without fear tactics that encourage unrealistic referrals, and the message from home is that almost everything is fine in moderation," said Sizemore.