Thursday 29 October 2015

Naughty NICE

Last week, the National Institute for Clinical 'Excellence' told people to go teetotal to avoid dementia. However, as Tony Edwards points in this magnificent polemic, NICE are playing fast and loose with the facts.

In the past seven years, three meta-analyses have been done by different groups of experts, all working independently of each other.

Researchers at Imperial College London published the first data-pooling exercise in 2008. Their analysis? 'Low to moderate alcohol use is associated with a 38 per cent reduced risk of unspecified incident dementia.'

Interestingly, they noted that wine, at an intake of up to half a litre a day, significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer's in particular.

A year later, an Australian group's meta-analysis found that 'compared with non-drinkers, drinkers had a 34 per cent reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and a 47 per cent reduction of any dementia type'.

Heavy drinkers didn't benefit, but they were found to be at no greater risk of dementia than non-drinkers.

In 2011, a meta-analysis by U.S. researchers concluded that there is 'a real and beneficial effect of light to moderate drinking that reduces the risk of dementia, cognitive impairment, and cognitive decline in older adults by 20 to 25 per cent'.

But population study data such as this can never provide ultimate proof. So in 2001, Harvard University neurologists decided to use MRI scanners to examine the inside of drinkers' and non-drinkers' skulls.

The results were stunning. Completely in line with the population studies, 'moderate drinkers' had healthier-looking brains than non-drinkers, with 'a lower prevalence of infarcts [damage from mini-strokes] . . . and white matter abnormalities [defects in the tissue that transmits messages between brain cells]' - two classic precursors of dementia.

You can now understand my shock at that headline claiming that any amount of alcohol intake will cause dementia - it could not have been more wrong-headed. Mind you, almost the whole of what used to be called Fleet Street plugged the same line.

But who can blame them? It was the message many were bound to take from the dementia 'guidelines' published by NICE last week.

I recommend you read the whole thing. (I have added the links to the studies above.)

It is increasingly futile to expect any health agency to accurately convey scientific evidence about alcohol, nicotine and nutrition to the public. The corrupting influence of 'public health' ideology, which blames everything on lifestyle factors and can never acknowledge any benefits from the products it is at war with, is all pervasive.

William Buckley once said that he'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University. When it comes to advice about lifestyle risks, you would be better off asking a random stranger in the street than asking the likes of NICE. The random stranger might be totally uninformed but he has a 50:50 chance of being right and it is less likely that he will deliberately mislead you.

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