Experts urge review of alcohol consumption guidelines

Kenny Tucker
April 13, 2018

Strikingly, the data did not show a significant difference between men and women in the amount of alcohol that can be consumed without a drop in life expectancy.

"These data support adoption of lower limits of alcohol consumption than are recommended in most current guidelines", the report added. "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.

Current guidelines published by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion allow for drinking in moderation. Alcohol is also associated with raised risk of cancers.

"An important message from this study is that optimal life expectancy is associated with a relatively low level of alcohol consumption (less than 100g per week), and that higher levels of consumption increase mortality risk", said Bu Yeap, a professor from the University of Western Australia and a co-author of the study, in a statement. The data show that the bad effects offset the good.

Alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysms, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure and there were no clear thresholds where drinking less did not have a benefit.

The study's recommendations are significantly less than what many countries recommend as an alcohol consumption limit. And the study didn't account for any changes in their drinking habits.

The study was funded by the BHF, UK Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7 and European Research Council. The UK levels might be in tune with what this study suggests is safe.

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Researchers relied on what participants reported drinking at the start, recognizing that many people may be lowballing how much they actually down.

But they said drinking at all levels increased the risk of cardiovascular illnesses. The effects of alcohol on health are very complicated.

Even more excessive drinking, a weekly total of more than 17 drinks, was linked with a shorter life expectancy of 4-5 years.

There's variation from country to country as to how many grams of alcohol are generally found in a standard drink. Indulging in 10 or more drinks above the limit was linked with between one and two years shorter life expectancy, while 18 drinks or more was linked with between four and five years shorter life expectancy.

On average, each unit of alcohol consumed over the 100g threshold, slices about 15 minutes off a person's life - about the same as a cigarette, David Spiegelhalter, a professor in the "understanding of risk" at the University of Cambridge said in a comment on the report.

Experts said it challenged the idea that light drinking was good for us.

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