Wow, two dubious bits of medical advice for us to debunk in one week—is there a full moon or is this just a bit of early Halloween mischief? Earlier this week, we read eyebrow-raising headlines reporting on a meta-analysis of scientific studies which advised that men should stop drinking alcohol six months before they try to get someone pregnant; otherwise, their babies would be at a higher risk for congenital heart problems. Just one problem here, though: That’s not really what the researchers found.
Thankfully, Ars Technica’s health reporter dug into the whole messy study, which appears to be full of generalizations and sloppy conclusions. Ars Technica says it’s characterized by “many troubling weaknesses and caveats,” not least of which is the researchers’ baffling assertion that men’s drinking patterns after conception could somehow affect the fetus’ risk of heart problems via… osmosis? Notably, the researchers also found that men who drink up to 3.5 standard drinks per day actually father children who are at a lower risk for congenital heart defects—but that didn’t get any attention in the official press release.
At the tail end—the very last sentence, in fact—of that press release, the study’s lead author notes: “The underlying mechanisms connecting parental alcohol and congenital heart diseases are uncertain and warrant further research. Although our analysis has limitations - for example the type of alcohol was not recorded—it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol.’” But does it?
Consider this your second weekly reminder to take outrageous health headlines with a grain of salt—except for the scary ones about soda. Those are definitely true.