The lead author of this study, which was part funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Dr. Angela Wood explained "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".
Even the most casual drinkers among us, including those following USA government recommendations, can see months and years taken away by steadily hitting the hooch, according to a new study by an worldwide team of researchers.
In the United States, the government says people who don't already drink shouldn't start. The U.S. government guidelines specify that those people who are under the age of 65 should drink with a limitation for men of 14 a week and seven for women, i.e., two drinks a day for men and one drink for women.
Drinking over this limit can shorten the life expectancy.
The researchers point out that there is no thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with disease risk but that the threshold for lowest risk was 100g per week. Abstainers and former drinkers are often much less healthy than those in the general population who drink moderately, but they've often been included in studies comparing drinkers to non-drinkers. There's variation from country to country as to how many grams of alcohol are generally found in a standard drink.
Of the 599,912 people in the study, 40,310 died and 39,018 got cardiovascular disease during an average 7.5 years of follow-up. Half of the participants reported consuming more than 100g of alcohol a week and 8.4% drank more than 350g per week (the heavy drinkers).
A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
The study, which was on Friday, was based on the health data of almost 600 thousand alcohol drinkers from 19 countries. But the study found a striking linear relationship between alcohol intake and dying from any cause. Meanwhile, 18 drinks or more per week was linked to four to five years shorter life expectancy.
Drinking sensibly has been shown in the past to reduce the chance of a non-fatal heart attack and can even be good for the brain. That may partly reflect that alcohol can elevate blood pressure and alter cholesterol levels, the researchers said. More than that raises the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm (a ruptured artery in the chest), heart failure and death. And it raises further questions about why the federal government is now recruiting subjects for a clinical trial, financed by the alcohol industry, to try to prove that alcohol prevents heart disease.
Current Irish guidelines recommend a limit of 170g pure alcohol (17 standard drinks) per week for men and 110g pure alcohol (11 standard drinks) for women. Virtually every researcher working on the study has ties to industry.
On average, each unit of alcohol that exceeds the 100-gram limit slices off 15 minutes of a person's life - about the same as a cigarette, said David Spiegelhalter, a professor at the University of Cambridge, in a comment on the report.