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Experts urge review of alcohol consumption guidelines

13 April 2018

The global team analysed data on almost 600,000 drinkers aged 30-100, from 83 studies in 19 high-income countries.

But many countries have drinking guidelines that consider 100 grams of alcohol a week to be well within the range of "safe" drinking.

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British guidelines were similar to the USA standards until two years ago, when United Kingdom health officials brought the recommendation for men down to the level that exists for women. (For women, US guidelines fall within these recommended amounts, at no more than 98 grams a week.) In Canada, guidelines recommend no more than 136 grams (4.8 ounces) per week for women, and no more than 204 grams (7 ounces) per week for men. The new study says the United Kingdom got it just about right.

Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the study said: "If you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions".

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This research recalibrates the concept of moderate drinking and gives a more complicated, nuanced interpretation of how alcohol affects cardiovascular health for better or worse. By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was associated with a somewhat lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks ("myocardial infarction").

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

Notably, the heavier drinkers were less likely to have a heart attack. The common explanation is that alcohol can boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, which can be protective against arterial blockages.

People who reported drinking more had higher rates of stroke, heart disease, deadly high blood pressure and fatal aortic aneurysms, the team reported in the Lancet medical journal.

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"It's a very impressive study", said Aaron White, senior scientific adviser at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Many people can drink far more than that in a single day.

"Around half of people in the study reported drinking more than 100 grams (or 10 standard drinks) of alcohol per week and nearly 10 per cent drank more than 350 grams per week".

It's official, everyone: We're drinking too much booze and it's cutting us short of precious life.

That's equivalent to 10 standard drinks, well below Australian guidelines advising adults to limit themselves to two standard drinks a day (20g alcohol) to reduce their lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. For example, life expectancy was 6 months lower among those who drank 100 to 200 grams (7 ounces) per week, and life expectancy was 1 to 2 years lower among those who drank 200 to 300 grams (10.5 ounces) per week, compared with those who drank less than 100 grams a week.

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These warnings should be heeded by physicians when talking to their patients about their drinking habits, said one of the study co-authors, Dan Blazer, professor of psychiatry emeritus at Duke University School of Medicine.

Experts urge review of alcohol consumption guidelines