Health Care

Study raises concerns about long-term impacts of alcohol

Study raises concerns about long-term impacts of alcohol

Drinking more than a glass of wine or beer can take years off your life, a study has found.

An analysis of almost 600,000 people found those drinking more than 100g of alcohol every week - around five 175ml glasses of wine or pints of beer - were at an increased risk of early death.

The US government now recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, but twice that amount for men.

This equates to around six pints of 4% strength beer or six 175ml glasses of 13% wine.

"The lowest mortality we observed was in people who drank less than 10 standard drinks of alcohol a week", says Professor Bu Yeap, a health researcher at the University of WA and among the more than 100 worldwide academics who co-authored the study.

Scientists analysed almost 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries, and calculated how much their life would be reduced if they drank the same amount for the rest of their lives from the age of 40.

The US government guidelines define low-risk drinking as two "standard" alcoholic drinks a day for men and one for women plus no more than a total of 14 drinks per week.

Go over that and the report claims that life expectancy drops by five years.

He said the key is for people to limit how much alcohol they consume.

"Drinking more may reduce the risk of nonfatal heart attack, but actually, let's balance that against the higher risk of stroke and other fatal cardiovascular diseases and shorter life expectancy", Wood said.

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That's because earlier studies found women are hit by the effects of alcohol at lower amounts than men for several reasons, including women weigh less than men on average and blood alcohol concentrations rise faster.

Recommended alcohol limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are nearly 50 per cent higher than the 100 grams per week limit, and in the United States of America, the upper limit for men is near 196 grams per week or 11 glasses and 98 grams per week for women.

The findings were roughly the same for both men and women, suggesting recommended levels for both sexes should be the same.

About half the participants reported drinking more than 100g per week, and 8.4% drank more than 350g per week. A standard drink in Germany contains between 10 and 12 grams of alcohol.

"This powerful study may make sobering reading for countries that have set their recommendations at higher levels than the United Kingdom, but this does seem to broadly reinforce government guidelines for the United Kingdom", said Victoria Taylor, the Senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation.

In an effort to avoid the problems that have plagued alcohol and health studies for decades, researchers only studied current drinkers, excluding abstainers or those who'd quit drinking.

As for the threshold for low-risk drinking, White said, "there's no magic number here. Drinking is really fun, but you should not do it for your health". The highest level of drinking in the study - more than 350 grams per week - was linked with a 4- to 5-year reduction in life expectancy.

The study found that drinking between 100-200 grams of alcohol could decrease one's life expectancy by six months, 200-350 grams by two years and more than 350 grams by four years.

Richard Saitz, a professor of community health at Boston University School of Public Health, says that the new information reported in The Lancet raises further ethical questions about an industry-funded study that asks people to drink a substance known to cause cancer even at low levels.