Current recommended limits on alcohol consumption should be reduced further, researchers have concluded.
A major study into the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular diseases, carried out by resarchers at the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation, found that the lower safe limit is just around 12.5 units (100g) of alcohol a week.
This comes after the UK Government reduced upper recommended limits for men and women to 14 units a week two years ago, down from 28 for men and 21 for women.
Based on a combined analysis of individual-participant data from three large-scale data sources in 19 high-income countries, the researchers assessed alcohol consumption in relation to all-cause mortality, total cardiovascular disease, and several cardiovascular disease subtypes.
Adjusting for factors including age, sex, smoking and diabetes, the researchers found the ‘minimum mortality risk’ to be ‘around or below 100g per week’, while higher levels of drinking were associated with reduced life expectancy.
The paper, published in the Lancet, said: ‘In comparison to those who reported drinking >0–≤100 g per week, those who reported drinking >100–≤200 g per week, >200–≤350 g per week, or >350 g per week had lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1–2 years, or 4–5 years, respectively.’
The researchers concluded: ‘In current drinkers of alcohol in high-income countries, the threshold for lowest risk of all-cause mortality was about 100g/week. For cardiovascular disease subtypes other than myocardial infarction, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk.
‘These data support limits for alcohol consumption that are lower than those recommended in most current guidelines.’
Findings in full
Alcohol consumption was roughly linearly associated with a higher risk of stroke (HR per 100 g per week higher consumption 1·14, 95% CI, 1·10–1·17), coronary disease excluding myocardial infarction (1·06, 1·00–1·11), heart failure (1·09, 1·03–1·15), fatal hypertensive disease (1·24, 1·15–1·33); and fatal aortic aneurysm (1·15, 1·03–1·28).
By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was log-linearly associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction (HR 0·94, 0·91–0·97). In comparison to those who reported drinking >0–≤100 g per week, those who reported drinking >100–≤200 g per week, >200–≤350 g per week, or >350 g per week had lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1–2 years, or 4–5 years, respectively.