Alcohol guidelines in many countries may not be safe

Henrietta Brewer
April 13, 2018

Everyone loves an "Alcohol makes you live longer!"-style headline, but the truth is more likely to be the exact opposite".

Australian health guidelines say 14 standard drinks a week - that's about seven pints of beer, or about nine glasses of wine - is safe.

- 200-350 grams/week: lowers life expectancy by 1-2 years.

Consuming between 200-350g per week lowered life expectancy by one to two years, and more than 350g by up to five years.

A landmark analysis of more than half a million drinkers from 19 countries suggests that, to lower your risk of premature death from any cause, alcohol consumption should be capped at 100g per week.

Men in the U.S. are advised to drink no more than 11 glasses of wine, or pints of beer, nearly double than in the UK.

The amount of alcohol in a standard drink varies from country to country.

For these conditions, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk.

The evidence found that higher alcohol consumption contributed to a greater risk of several heart conditions including stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm. By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was associated with a somewhat lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks ("myocardial infarction").

The authors note that the different relationships between alcohol intake and various types of cardiovascular disease may relate to alcohol's elevating effects on blood pressure and on factors related to elevated high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) (also known as "good" cholesterol).

This research recalibrates the concept of moderate drinking and gives a more complicated, nuanced interpretation of how alcohol affects cardiovascular health for better or worse.

However, industry figures have rallied against the study, claiming that it overlooks the "mental and social benefits" of sensible alcohol consumption.

"However, this gain in life expectancy is only seen when alcohol consumption is below 100 grams per week".

"This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes", co-author Dan G. Blazer of Duke University told The Lancet, which published the study Thursday. This slightly lower risk of heart attack tied to alcohol consumption must be balanced against the other "serious, and potentially fatal, cardiovascular diseases" linked with alcohol consumption, lead study author Dr. Angela Wood, a lecturer in biostatistics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said in the statement.

Victoria Taylor, Senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: "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 UK".

Many people can drink far more than that in a single day.

"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target".

This article has been republished from materials provided by the University of Cambridge.

Reference Wood, AM et al.

The research combined results from 83 studies conducted in 19 countries, tracking almost 600,000 people who drank alcohol.

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