HSE alcohol limits may still put drinkers' health at risk

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An analysis of over half a million drinkers suggests alcohol consumption should be limited to below 100g per week.

But now a new study using data from 19 high income countries has found a reduction in life expectancy across all causes of death for people who consume more 100g per week.

Drinking between 200-350g alcohol/week would cut up to two years off, and drinking more than 350g alcohol would cut off up to five years.

The report found that a 40-year-old regularly drinking between about 10 to 18 glasses of wine or pints of beer a week had a lower life expectancy of around one to two years, while someone who exceeded this level could be shedding four to five years off their life.

Authors said the study backed up the UK's recently lowered guidelines, which since 2016 recommend both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the equivalent of about six drinks a week. Spain, Portugal and Italy, the study states, have recommended limits almost 50% higher than the 100-gram threshold. The Lancet study, however, found no evidence to support different guidelines for women and men.

Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are almost 50% higher than this, and in the U.S. the upper limit for men is nearly double this.

Alcohol consumption was found to be associated with a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but researchers point out that this must be weighed against increased risk of potentially fatal heart disease.

The study's authors note it has several limitations, primarily that it relies on self-reported data about alcohol consumption.

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"Doctors and other healthcare professionals must heed this message and transmit it to their patients".

"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", says Blazer. Heavy drinkers shave years off their lifespan.

The study's likely to be controversial, said Jason Connor and Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research in Australia.

"Secondly, there has been a fiction, used by the alcohol industry to maintain nearly unrestrained advertising for its products, that small quantities of alcohol are beneficial, even healthy (reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease)".

For these conditions, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk. In that part of the research, 21 study participants at the Medical University of Graz in Austria were randomly assigned to drink either a mixture of alcohol and juice, or juice alone.

"Evidence reviews on the health effects of alcohol consumption are now underway, which will help inform the recommendations in the revised guidelines", a spokesman says.

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