House Calls / This holiday, say ‘no’ to bah humbug and ‘yes’ to moderation

The holiday season invites festive holiday parties and celebrations which undoubtedly include seasonal libations and the inevitable consumption of alcoholic beverages. But is it now unhealthy to drink these alcoholic beverages and “toast” in the new year?

The answer may be more complicated than you think.

A recent study suggests that any alcohol ingestion could be detrimental to our health. The study, conducted by the Washington School of Medicine, stated that even a small intake of alcohol is potentially harmful. Specifically, they reported that there was an increased risk of premature death by as much as twenty percent for patients who drink any amount of alcohol. Most of these deaths were due to certain cancers, road fatalities or infections such as tuberculosis. This surprising conclusion has people concerned and questioning whether they should completely avoid all alcohol intake.

As such, should we now all postpone or cancel these celebrations or simply decide not to serve any of these “tasty” beverages at our events? Most experts say certainly not.

Although all clinical studies are important, definitive conclusions should never be based on any single reported result. Throughout my 30 years as a physician, I have read numerous published clinical studies that served to confuse and disturb patients by warning that certain medications, treatments or life style choices may have detrimental effects. Indeed, many people tend to get frightened by the sensationalism of these reports and frequently become uncertain of exactly what they mean and what they need to do regarding themselves. Moreover, often many of these media reports contradict other previously published studies, which can lead to further confusion and concern.

For example, the recent Washington School of Medicine study concluding even consumption of small amounts of alcohol can be harmful to one’s health contradicts another recent study, which suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial to one’s health — citing to cases where those who consumed a moderate amount of alcohol had lower risk for heart disease and reduced hospitalizations then those who consumed no alcohol.

So what are patients supposed to do?

When patients come into my office to discuss one of these recent media reports that they saw on the television or read in a newspaper, I usually caution them against relying on conclusions of one single study. My advice has always been the same. Don’t give credence to one particular study whether the results are good or bad. Study results change all the time. One study may suggest adverse health outcomes while the subsequent study may indicate health benefits.

In the case of alcohol consumption, simply be cognizant of the fact that there may be risks and consequences. Additionally, recognize that further studies are always ongoing and should ultimately shed more information on the question of whether moderate alcohol intake will increase the chances of adverse effects and outcomes.

Remember, every individual is different and depending on medical history and risk factors, some may be more prone to adverse effects than others. Be smart and evoke the adage, moderation in all things. But should you have additional concerns, seek the guidance of your health care professional.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and is affiliated with Soundview Medical Associates with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his web site at