Experts urge review of alcohol consumption guidelines

Alicia Farmer
April 13, 2018

For men, that means up to two drinks per day, or roughly 196 grams per week - almost double what researchers suggest.

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This increases with higher alcohol consumption, with those who have 18 drinks or more losing up to five years of life.

A landmark analysis of more than half a million drinkers from 19 countries suggests that, to lower your risk of premature death from any cause, alcohol consumption should be capped at 100g per week. This equates to around six pints of 4 per cent strength beer or six 175ml glasses of 13 per cent wine. In Britain, that's about six pints of beer a week.

British guidelines were like the US standards until two years ago, when United Kingdom health officials brought the recommendation for men down to the level for women.

"Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are almost 50 percent higher than this, and in the US, the upper limit for men is nearly double", the researchers found.

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. The researchers also looked at the association between alcohol consumption and different types of cardiovascular disease.

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

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.

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Tracy Parker from the British Heart Foundation says any positive health effects of drink are relatively minor.

Analysis shows that approximately half of all drinkers go over the weekly recommended limit in the 19 high-income countries studied, while nearly one-in-ten people drink more than the equivalent of 21 pints of beer a week.

"What it shows is that the amount of alcohol consumed affects the risk of dying", says Yeap.

However, risk of non-fatal heart attacks dipped with more alcohol.

The UK recommends people do not drink more than 14 units a week - or around 6 pints of beer or glasses of wine - giving it one of the strictest set of guidelines in the world.

For these conditions, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk.

The authors of the study, funded by various institutions including the UK Medical Research Council, said recommended alcohol limits should be lowered to around 100g or 12.5 units per week in many countries.

"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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