With the decline in smoking rates (particularly in countries which allow use of e-cigarettes) alcohol has become the whipping boy. Let us be clear on the outset. Excessive consumption of alcohol causes major problems not just for the individual but often for those around them. These problems dwarf that of illicit drugs.
However, this does not mean that any amount of consumption is harmful or that most people do not consume at levels which are perfectly compatible with good health. The latest thought bubble has been for government to raise the “floor price” as apparently some outlets are selling it “too cheap”. Necessarily this type of tax affects those on lower incomes disproportionately and there is nothing to suggest that those on higher incomes do not drink less. They can afford more expensive drinks. It is always deceitful when revenue raising measures are dressed up as being about health.
The other hysteria about alcohol is in pregnancy. Multiple studies have shown that the vast majority of women drink little or no alcohol while pregnant. We know that excessive consumption can damage the growing baby. A drink here or there does not. Many women are made to feel guilty or paranoid about having a glass of wine. Meanwhile those who drink to dangerous levels are immune to nanny state messages.
This is a significant point. Those women who actually do drink in a way that potentially could harm the baby do not get the focus that might help them. Those women who have nothing to worry about are made to feel guilty by public health messages that miss the mark.
And why do they is the mark? As usual, toxic identity politics means that rather than target those who need help a broad-brush message is delivered to make it appear that all are at equal risk.
The hyperventilation from public health about even one drink in pregnancy is in stark contrast to their sanguine approach to antidepressants. These have again been shown to increase the rate of malformations and psychiatric illness in children. This does not mean women can’t take them but the risks are generally not spelled out.
Recently I received a circular from the health department. It outlined the research including higher rates of various problems, heart defects and low birth weight in babies where antidepressants were taken in pregnancy. The risks are not great. But neither are those of the occasional drink. And the other issue is we know that often antidepressants are no more effective than placebo. So, are the small risks worth it?
This can only be decided on a case by case basis. The key point here is that the risks of a drink are magnified and those of medication downplayed or even ignored. There needs to be a level playing field where all risks are discussed openly.
Another study has shown an increased rate of miscarriage in women who have the flu shot. The cause was not known and the study needs to be validated. Yet it highlights that some risks are shouted from the rooftops and others are casually ignored.
Again, this is important as women are encouraged to have a flu shot in pregnancy. If (and I repeat if) there is an increased risk of miscarriage then this needs to be openly disclosed and not covered up.
This is not a function of science. Either we talk about risks to health (in pregnancy or otherwise) or we don’t. Highlighting only those that do not contradict current thinking shows that elements in medicine have been taken over by ideology.
We must be open to our ideas being overturned. Science is never settled.
Dr Joe Kosterich MBBS is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”. His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.