St. Catharines professor shrugs off news saying Canadians should limit themselves to 2 drinks a week


Published September 12, 2022 at 12:24 pm

Brock University researcher and beer historian Dan Malleck suggested the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction's new guidelines on alcohol might be a bit too stringent. (Photo: Brock University)

When the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) recently released new guidelines recommending Canadians have no more than two alcoholic drinks per week to reduce health risks, it set off a bit of a shockwave.

Brock University professor of Health Sciences and beer historian Dan Malleck quickly noted that CCSA might be pushing an overly “distorted view” of alcohol’s health impacts.

While certainly not preaching overindulgence, Malleck said, “Talking about ‘increased risk’ can be misleading when there’s no balance presented between risk and likelihood.”

In actual fact, the CCSA’s previous guidelines released in 2011 were that men should limit their alcohol consumption to a maximum of three drinks per day and 15 per week, while women should limit to no more than two drinks per day and 10 per week. (The difference in genders is due mostly to body size.)

Malleck suggested that if a non-drinker has a one in 100,000 chance of contracting a disease, and a drinker has a two in 100,000 chance, that’s a 100 per cent increase in risk, which “sounds pretty dire.” However, he added the likelihood of getting that disease is still only 0.002 per cent.

The new CCSA guidelines suggested that health risks escalate quickly above six standard drinks per week, especially for women, saying three to six drinks a week can increase the risk of developing certain cancers, while more than seven drinks per week can increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

Again, Malleck took that with a grain of salt.

He says the studies viewed for the report look at alcohol consumption and specific health outcomes, but do not consider other behaviours that may be connected, such as the fact that people often eat ‘bad’ food when drinking or that drinking earlier in life may have taken place in a smoky bar.

“This is because it’s much more difficult and costly to do cause-and-effect studies that encompass the actual nuances of everyday life,” he said. “It also doesn’t permit the space for determining if a behaviour helps avoid a negative outcome.”

As well, he was quick to add that not included in the new guidelines are any positive benefits to moderate alcohol consumption, including social aspects that can be protective against stress, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

“All of those things are harder to track to a biomedical outcome,” he says. “By assuming there is no positive value of alcohol in people’s lives, the research ignores other potentially lethal or damaging activity that may have been averted due to drinking.”

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