Regular excess drinking can take years off your life, study finds

15 April, 2018, 00:31 | Author: Colin Gill
  • New research suggests even the Department of Health's strict new guidelines are too high

For the new study, the researchers analyzed information from 599,912 people in high-income countries who drank alcohol but did not have heart disease at the study's start.

While the USA government now recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, the recommendation for men is 14 drinks.

"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target and try to drink well below this threshold". The new study says the United Kingdom got it just about right.

"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 global academics who co-authored the study.

The findings challenge the widely held belief that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health, and support the UK's recently lowered guidelines. Above this, there was increased risk of both heart attack and heart disease.

Wood and her colleagues did not find an overall health benefit.

When it comes to how alcohol affects your health, guidance - from how drinking affects pregnancy to whether sipping red wine helps your heart - is all over the map.

The common explanation is that alcohol can boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, which can be protective against arterial blockages. The researchers focused on who developed - and died from - stroke and different forms of heart disease. The data show that the bad effects offset the good.

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The researchers examined alcohol's impact on causes of death related to cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease and fatal aortic aneurysm.

Alcohol consumption is also associated with higher risks of several types of cancer, including breast cancer. And the study didn't account for any changes in their drinking habits.

'It's as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, 15 minutes of life - about the same as a cigarette, ' said David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

For that reason, it's a little unclear exactly how much alcohol is "safe" to drink; in other words, it's hard to tell what level is associated with a low risk of health problems and substance disorders. "It's important for us to be able to advise people what level of consumption is safe".

In contrast, drinking more was associated with a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.

In numerous individual studies included in the meta-analysis, the participants were asked only once about how much alcohol they drank - and people are notoriously bad at accurately reporting their drinking. This new research suggests that this is still too much.

But as the drinker ventures further beyond the threshold, the life expectancy continues to erode in dramatic fashion. It found all fatal causes increased once the 100-gram mark was passed.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years lower life expectancy, which is around a twentieth of their remaining life". "These findings underline what we have already said".

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