NIH shuts down study on moderate drinking and cardiovascular health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shut down a $100 million study designed to settle the question over whether one alcoholic beverage per day is part of a heart-healthy diet.

The announcement came June 15 following the recommendation of an advisory panel to NIH director Francis Collins, MD, PhD. Those investigators found there was “frequent” email correspondence between staff members of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the NIH, and beverage company executives in which the NIAAA staff members attempted to persuade companies to provide funding for the trial.

Five beverage companies agreed to contribute about two-thirds of the money for the trial, although Anheuser-Busch InBev recently said it was pulling its contributions over credibility concerns.

“The early and frequent engagement with industry representatives calls into question the impartiality of the process and thus, casts doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable,” the advisory committee stated in its report.

Michael Siegel, MD, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University, applauded the NIH’s move.

“This ensures that NIH’s research agenda will be determined by scientific merit, not corporate marketing priorities,” he told The New York Times. “The NIH research portfolio should not be up to the highest corporate bidder.”

Lead investigator and Harvard professor Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, MPH, said in a written statement he and his colleagues “stand fully and forcefully behind the scientific integrity” of the trial.

The plan was to randomize participants 50 and older at high risk of heart disease to either abstain from alcohol or have one beverage of their choice per day. Researchers would follow the groups for six years on average to see if there were any differences in the rates of stroke, heart attack, diabetes and death.

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