Regular excess drinking can take years off your life, study finds

Drinking alcohol linked to lower life expectancy

"When the USA reviews their guidelines, I would hope they would use this as evidence to consider lowering the guidelines for men probably in line with female guidelines", the study's lead author, Angela Wood, a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge, told The Washington Post.

The large-scale study analysed the drinking habits of people in 19 countries, and calculated how much lifespan a person might expect to lose if they maintained the same drinking habits from age 40 onwards.

A standard drink refers to 10 grams of pure alcohol, but a serving of alcohol usually differs from a "standard" drink.

The study's researchers also found that drinking increased the risk of cardiovascular illness, with every 12.5 units over the guidelines raising the risk of a stroke by 14 percent, fatal hypertensive disease by 24 percent, heart failure by nine percent and fatal aortic aneurysm by 15 percent. They noted that while alcohol may lower the risk of non-fatal heart attacks, it found that "on balance" there were no health benefits from drinking.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years lower life expectancy", said David Spiegelhalter, a risk expert at Britain's University of Cambridge who was not involved in the study.

No surprise, but the report finds that exceeding 100 grams increases your likelihood of a variety of awful things - stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, etc.

University of Western Australia Professor Bu Yeap, a co-author of the study, said it was a "suitable time" for current Australian guidelines on alcohol consumption to be reviewed so that the new information could be considered.

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These limits are lower than the levels for many other countries, but this latest study suggests they are about right.

But recent research has suggested that Americans need to reassess how much they drink.

Tim Chico, is professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield. The highest level of drinking in the study - more than 350 grams per week - was linked with a 4- to 5-year reduction in life expectancy. This allowed researchers "to characterize risk thresholds for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease subtypes in current drinkers of alcohol", the authors wrote.

"We have 40 years of research that shows light to moderate drinking equals improved cognitive function and memory in ageing as well as reduced chance of vascular dementia", Calder continued.

"The take home message is this: less is probably better".

That interpretation is not likely to be welcomed by the alcohol industry, which has embraced the idea, backed by the medical establishment, that moderate drinking may be good for you by lowering the risk of a heart attack. Spain, Portugal and Italy, the study states, have recommended limits almost 50% higher than the 100-gram threshold. However, if people in the studies routinely underestimated their alcohol consumption, that would mean the meta-analysis results tend towards underestimating the harm alcohol causes.

Canada and Sweden have guidelines similar to those in the US set by the Department of Agriculture. In countries like Italy, Spain, or the United States, the recommended limit is now nearly double that in the UK (equating to up to two lost years of life).

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