Cheers! Raise your glass, but not that often

Chloe Eustache

The results of a UK survey of risk thresholds associated with alcohol consumption were recently published in The Lancet. The guidelines related to alcohol consumption vary depending on the country. In the United States, the recommended upper limit for men is 196 grams per week, which is around 11 standard glasses of wine or pints of beer. The upper limit for American women is 98 grams per week. Canada and Sweden have similar recommended limits but the low-risk limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are almost 50% higher than those in the U.S. These differences are connected to the lack of certainty about the risks associated with drinking alcohol and the evidence linking this to a variety of cardiovascular issues.

The study focused on 599, 912 current drinkers in 19 high-income countries with no previous history of cardiovascular disease, including any surgery related to this. Each individual’s age, smoking status, gender, and any history or diabetes were all taken into account and adjustments were made where necessary. The mean age of the participants was 57 years. 44% of participants were women and 21% were smokers. About 50% of all participants drank more than 100 grams of alcohol per week, while 8.4% drank more than 350 grams.

The study determined that alcohol consumption was connected to a higher risk of stroke, coronary disease excluding myocardial infarction, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm. However, increased alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction. The study confirmed the established connection between alcohol consumption and cancers of the digestive system. Adjustments made for the smokers that participated in the study also confirmed that alcohol consumption does not cause lung cancer.

In terms of life expectancy, those drinking between 100 and 200 grams per week, 200 to 350 grams per week, or more than 350 grams per week had lower life expectancy at age 40 of around 6 months, 1 to 2 years, or 4 to 5 years respectively than those drinking up to 100 grams per week. Men drinking less than 100 grams per week had a 1 to 2 year greater life expectancy at age 40 than those drinking 196 grams per week. Women at the same age drinking more than the 112 grams UK threshold or the 98 grams U.S. threshold had a life expectancy around 1.3 years less than women drinking less than that. The study suggests that beer or spirit drinkers, in addition to binge drinkers, had the highest risk linked to their alcohol consumption.

The study concludes that threshold for lowest risk regarding alcohol consumption is around 100 grams week. This is lower than the recommended guidelines in many countries, which should be adjusted accordingly in order for people to enjoy drinking responsibly and also enjoy good health.

So if you enjoy a drink now and then, just make sure it’s in moderation and you could be enjoying your favourite tipple well into your golden years.