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Drinking more alcohol linked to lower life expectancy, research finds

More than 100g each week increases risk of early death

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Drinkers who ignore alcohol consumption guidelines could be cutting years off their lives, according to new research.

A UK analysis of nearly 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.

Drinking more alcohol was also linked with a greater chance of suffering a stroke, heart failure, and fatal aneurysm, according to the international study published in journal the Lancet.

The findings support recently lowered guidelines in the UK, which recommend that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units or 112g of pure alcohol in a week.

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

Lead author, Dr Angela Wood, of the University of Cambridge, said: "The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions."

The study analysed 599,912 current drinkers in 19 countries, none of whom had a known history of cardiovascular disease, and found an increase in all causes of death when more than 100g of alcohol was consumed every week.

A 40-year-old regularly drinking between 200g and 350g of alcohol per week - about 10 to 18 glasses of wine or pints of beer - had a lower life expectancy of around one to two years, researchers found.

Those exceeding 350g of alcohol every week could shed four to five years off their life.

While the study also found alcohol consumption was linked to a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks, experts said "on balance" there are no health benefits from drinking.

Dr Wood said: "Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious - and potentially fatal - cardiovascular diseases."

The authors of the study said recommended alcohol limits should be lowered to around 100g or 12.5 units per week in many countries.

UK guidelines were changed in 2016 to 14 units every week for men and women, lower than the limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The upper recommended limit for men in the US is almost 25 units of alcohol per week.

Co-author, Professor Naveed Sattar of the University of Glasgow, said: "This study provides clear evidence to support lowering the recommended limits of alcohol consumption in many countries around the world."

Commenting on the findings, Professor Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, said: "The study makes clear that on balance there are no health benefits from drinking alcohol, which is usually the case when things sound too good to be true.

"Although non-fatal heart attacks are less likely in people who drink, this benefit is swamped by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease including fatal heart attacks and strokes."

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the study seemed to "broadly reinforce" government guidelines in the UK.

But she added: "This doesn't mean we should rest on our laurels, many people in the UK regularly drink over what's recommended.

"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target and try to drink well below this threshold."

The study was funded by the BHF, UK Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7 and European Research Council.

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