Major alcohol study canceled over conflict of interest

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

The National Institutes of Health canceled and withdrew funds for a prospective study on how drinking alcohol affects heart attack risk because it was to be largely funded by the alcohol industry itself, and for “concerns about the study design that cast doubt on its ultimate credibility.” A working group of the NIH Advisory Committee to NIH Director Francis H. Collins published a 165-page report on June 15, 2018, citing:
• possible pro-alcohol bias,
• failure to address alcohol’s effects of increasing risk for certain cancers, and
• irregularities in the way that the study was funded.

This huge public study was to be funded with $67.7 million from groups with special interests in selling alcohol, with $20 million coming from the National Institutes of Health. The special interest groups were solicited by employees of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a violation of NIH policy. Copies of emails showed that NIAAA staff communicated directly with alcohol industry representatives more than two years ago and did not inform other members of NIAAA staff.

The study was supposed to measure nonfatal heart attacks, nonfatal strokes, hospitalizations for angina, coronary or carotid revascularization, and death from any cause. The NIH Advisory Committee report found that the study:
• did not plan to measure heart failure, even though that is a major side effect of taking in too much alcohol because alcohol has been shown to directly damage heart muscle tissue;
• did not measure cancers, even though it is well known that alcohol increases risk for cancer and premature death (PLOS Medicine, June 19, 2018); and
• was “inadequately powered to assess long-term safety and global health status.”

My Recommendations
If you see a study reporting benefits of products that you can buy, always look to see if the sellers of these products funded the research. Many questionable studies have been sponsored by companies and people who want to sell you foods, beverages, supplements, and even prescription drugs. Be skeptical — question everything.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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