Science has decided that the Australian guide of two alcoholic drinks a day is too much

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  • The latest research shows that even small amounts of alcohol may reduce life expectancy.
  • An analysis of over half a million drinkers suggests alcohol consumption should be limited to below 100g per week.
  • That’s about 10 standard drinks a week and is significantly lower than the no more than two-a-day limit imposed under official Australian Guidelines.

The latest global research has just trashed Australian health guidelines of having no more than two alcoholic drinks each day.

An analysis of more than half a million drinkers worldwide suggests alcohol consumption should be limited to below 100g — just under 10 standard Australian drinks — over seven days.

The research, which included Australian authors and data, found that drinking more than this lowered people’s life expectancy at age 40 by between six months and five years.

The more people drank, the higher the risk of a range of life threatening illnesses, including stroke and heart failure.

Recommended alcohol limits in many countries should be lowered to around 100g/week for men and women, according to an analysis of data from nearly 600,000 current drinkers in 19 countries published in medical journal, The Lancet.

In Australia, a standard drink is a 30ml nip of a spirit, a can of mid-strength beer or 100ml of wine (13.5% alcohol).

The new recommended 100g a week is equivalent to between five and six standard UK glasses of wine or pints of beer. The findings from the study are in line with UK guidance which was recently lowered to 6 glasses a week for men and women.

The recommended limits in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are almost 50% higher than this.

In the US, the upper limit for men is nearly double at 196g a week or 11 glasses and 98g a week for women.

Drinking less may help you live longer

“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,” says Dr Angela Wood, lead author at the University of Cambridge.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious, and potentially fatal, cardiovascular diseases.”

The authors note that the different relationships between alcohol intake and various types of cardiovascular disease can be explained, at least in part, by the effect of alcohol consumption on elevated blood pressure and on factors related to lipoprotein cholesterol.

Dr Dan G Blazer, co-author, at Duke University in the US, says doctors and other healthcare professionals must transmit this message to their patients.

“This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes,” says Blazer.

Writing in a linked comment, Professors Jason Connor and Wayne Hall, University of Queensland Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research, say:

“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. Nonetheless, the findings ought to be widely disseminated and they should provoke informed public and professional debate.”

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

Professor Bu Yeap, a co-author from the School of Medicine at the University of Western Australia, says the study is important as it analyses data from nearly 600,000 people from all over the world.

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

“Higher alcohol consumption is associated with lower risk of heart attack, but higher risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart events.

“Overall, for a 40-year-old man, the estimated reduction in life expectancy is nearly five years for alcohol consumption of more than 350g per week, for a 40-year-old woman it is around four years, compared to consumption of less than 100g per week.”

Jake Najman, Emeritus Professor from the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre (QADREC) at The University of Queensland, says the study suggests even modest quantities of alcohol increase the risk of earlier death.

“The data make it even clearer that the alcohol industry is promoting a misleading view that alcohol use is benign,” he says.

“Secondly, there has been a fiction, used by the alcohol industry to maintain almost unrestrained advertising for its products, that small quantities of alcohol are beneficial, even healthy (reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease).

“This study makes it clear that alcohol leads to many other diseases which, in total, increase the risk of death.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) says it is is reviewing the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009.

“Evidence reviews on the health effects of alcohol consumption are currently underway, which will help inform the recommendations in the revised guidelines,” a spokesman says.

“Until then, the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines remain NHMRC’s current advice.”

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