Sunday, 20 April 2014

Raising the bar

Eyebrows were raised by a press report last week of comments by scientist Dr Kari Poikolainen, a former World Health organisation alcohol expert, that drinking only becomes harmful when people consume more than around 13 units a day. Not surprisingly, Julia Manning, from think-tank 2020Health, countered by saying: “This is an unhelpful contribution to the debate. It makes grand claims which we don’t see evidence for. Alcohol is a toxin, the risks outweigh the benefits.” Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?

Now, I’m not advising you to go out and drink 90+ units a week, but there is a kind of fundamental truth in what he says. As I’ve repeatedly said, the current health guidelines represent a kind of lowest common denominator figure that is at the bottom of a gentle U-curve of risk. You certainly don’t encounter a cliff-edge of danger if you exceed them. People’s metabolisms vary so widely that it is impossible to state with certainty that x amount of alcohol will be OK, while y will be harmful.

And there is a kind of widespread folk wisdom that it is around the levels he states – maybe an average of about six pints a day – that drinking does start to become problematic. For example, here I quoted Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s: “He rails against the government’s 21-units-a-week dictum. “The doctor who came up with it said there’s no medical foundation to it; 70 to 80 units a week.” As a limit, or a recommendation? He laughs.”

Of course it is a fundamental feature of all such public health guidelines that they are set a little below what most people would consider a “normal” level, so a majority is made to feel guilty. The “five-a-day” nonsense is just the same. And, while drinking five pints a day is maybe not a prescription for optimal health, the risk of it doing you serious harm, especially if you’re a sturdy bloke, are greatly exaggerated.


  1. Drinking that much will make you a fat alcoholic :) Whether that's something you consider negative is up to you.

  2. Hmm, many of the really heavy drinkers I have known have been pretty skinny. And surely an alcoholic is someone drinking at least a bottle of vodka a day, not a bottle of wine.

  3. you are very fond of accepting opinions that confirm your pre-existing prejudices and dismissing those that don't.

  4. Much like every other person who has ever expressed an opinion on the Internet...

  5. Of course, it's not the drinking that makes you an acoholic, rather the other way round.

  6. Mudgie, I may disagree with some of your views,however I will allways uphold your right to express them,unlike some festering trot freaks who would confine us all to their twisted sense of freedom. As anyone with any level of intelligence and love of libety will have noticed,the bougeoise liberal elite have "with good intention"??? led us merily into an Orwelian nightmare.
    Oh before I forget ,please avoid mentioning the Spoons Chattering Chief,he is the arch enemy of the English Tavern

    Anon again,cheers
    PS Give us a shout when the pubs get back to normal.

  7. Even if the 21 unit recommendation was based on good research - which it isn't - I would distrust the findings. Unless the research subjects were kept locked up and given carefully measured doses how does the researcher know how much they have drunk?

    Self reporting? That's a laugh. A good night out is when you can't remember how much you have had.

    Following them around 24/7? But we problem drinkers are very sly about getting our fix

  8. Yes 'Cookie', only you can see 'The Truth', everyone else is biased or deluded. You really are a scream.

  9. ask nicely, I'm Mudgie will give you a guest blog, anon.


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