Science and Technology Committee HC 1536 Alcohol GuidelinesSupplementary written evidence submitted by Alcohol Research UK (AG 06a)

12 October Evidence Session

There was a point in the hearing where there was disagreement between Dr. Harding and myself over the current strength of evidence to support the alcohol cardioprotective effect and the Chairman asked for submissions of further evidence on this point. I had said that the consensus on the validity of the cardioprotective effect had largely abated since the “Sensible Drinking” report in 1995 and I now attach evidence to support that view:

(1)The paper by Fillmore and colleagues (2006) reports that the authors carefully reviewed 54 studies of the relationship between drinking and all cause mortality/ coronary heart disease and found only seven that were free of errors in the classification of “lifelong abstainers”; none of these seven reported a cardioprotective effect;

(2)The paper by Chikritzhs et al. (2009) is a brief review of evidence in this area, including the earlier paper above, and provides four reasons to be sceptical about the cardioprotective effect.

I should add that, in my view, it is still possible that the protective effect exists because, as Dr. Harding pointed out, a plausible physiological mechanism has been described for it. However, even if this were accepted, there is still considerable doubt about the size of the effect or its significance for policy on alcohol consumption. And, as Dr. Morgan also emphasised at the hearing, if this is true in the area of cardiovascular disease, where literally hundreds of epidemiological papers have been published, it must be even more true for other claims of putative protective effects against other types of disease where the evidence-base is in all cases much thinner.

Professor Nick HeatherEmeritus Professor of Alcohol & Other Drug Studies, School of Life Sciences, Northumbria UniversityAlcohol Research UK

October 2011

Prepared 5th January 2012