Moderate Drinking May Shorten Your Life, Despite What US Guidelines Say

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Moderate Drinking May Shorten Your Life, Despite What US Guidelines Say

By Bryan Le 04/16/18

The often-touted “moderate” level of drinking may still be too much, according to researchers.

Image: 
Man and woman sharing drinks.
If you are following US guidelines, you are still drinking too much.

Researchers say that following U.S. guidelines for safe levels of drinking—defined as roughly 14 standard drinks per week for men and seven for women—will still shorten your life. In gram amounts of pure alcohol, that’s 196 grams for men and 98 grams for women per week.

A new study sampled 600,000 people from 19 different countries and found a link between those who drank more than 100 grams of pure alcohol per week and an early death. The study, published in The Lancet, recommends all countries lower their drinking guidelines to follow suit.

“This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy” and other health problems, said Dr. Dan G. Blazer II, a study co-author and professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University.

The reason that every country can’t thus far seem to agree on a safe level of drinking is because of a lack of clear data linking alcohol consumption levels to longer-term health risks.

In this study, researchers garnered data from 599,912 people from high income countries who drank alcohol but did not have heart disease. The researchers would then follow up years later, with the median follow-up time being about 7.5 years.

In the initial review of the data, researchers found that about half the study participants reported consuming more than 100 grams of alcohol a week. About 8% reported consuming more than 350 grams per week.

After follow-ups, it was found that consumption of more than 100 grams per week was linked to a lower life expectancy. The reduction in lifetime was correlated to the degree of excess drinking: those who drank between 100 to 200 grams a week lost 6 months off their lifespan, while drinking 200 to 300 grams per week led to a one to two year decrease in lifespan.

The 8% of participants who reported consuming 350 grams per week, the highest levels of drinking found in the study, were found to lose four to five years.

Drinking wasn’t just tied to early deaths, either. Researchers found that drinkers faced increased risk of stroke or heart failure, death from hypertension, or aortic aneurysm.

For these conditions, no clear levels of drinking could be associated with the onset of these risks.

It wasn’t all bad news for drinkers, however. The risk of non-fatal heart attacks was slightly lower in those who drank, but whether this small benefit is worth it in the face of “serious, and potentially fatal, cardiovascular diseases” needs to be considered, said Dr. Angela Wood, lead study author and biostatistics lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

"If you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions," Wood recommended.

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