Alcohol guidelines in many countries may not be safe

Even one drink a day could be shortening your life expectancy says new study

However, the worldwide study carries implications for countries across the world, where alcohol guidelines vary substantially.

Updated advice from the UK's chief medical officer said it is safest for men and women not to drink more than 14 units a week - equal to six pints of beer or six glasses of wine. In the United States, that's about seven 12-ounce cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits.

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.

Regularly drinking more than this could take years off your life, experts have today warned, in support of the UK's recently lowered guidelines.

"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. 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.

Alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysms, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure and there were no clear thresholds where drinking less did not have a benefit.

Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the study said: "The key message of this research is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions". The researchers also looked at the association between alcohol consumption and different types of cardiovascular disease.

"For quite a few years we've been saying the current low-risk guidelines for alcohol use are too high".

"The drinking levels recommended in this study will no doubt be described as implausible and impracticable by the alcohol industry and other opponents of public health warnings on alcohol", they wrote in a commentary.

Several Australian studies were part of this collaboration, contributing to the research and making the findings relevant to Australians.

By contrast, alcohol consumption was associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.

Drinkers who ignore alcohol consumption guidelines could be cutting years off their lives, researchers say. People have the right to know how alcohol consumption affects their health so they can make informed choices about their drinking.

After looking at combined data from 19 countries that covered 599,912 drinkers, the researchers found that the lowest risk for alcohol was drinking less than 100 grams a week, or just 10 standard units.

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