Do you think drinking in moderation is good for you? You can think again. Do you like a glass of wine in the evening to help you relax? Forget about it. If you drink, you're likelier to die, a new study reminds us, with each extra drink shaving months — possibly even years — off your life.
If you enjoy a glass of something in the evening to unwind, this study will make sure that you don't anymore.
These new findings will make you look at that extra glass of wine in a wholly different light; researchers say that an additional drink can take years off your life.
Who came to this...ahem...dispiriting conclusion, I hear wine lovers ask, and how legit is the study?
Unfortunately (for us), the study was carried out by perfectly competent British-based researchers led by Angela Wood, who is a lecturer in biostatistics in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the prestigious University of Cambridge.
As for the study itself, it investigated the drinking patterns of almost 600,000 people in 19 different countries all over the world. So in that sense, the conclusion does seem to hold water. Or liquor, if you will.
Oh, and if you drink, the bad news doesn't stop there: although the authors don't point the finger at the United States specifically, the findings do seem to suggest that the U.S. alcohol guidelines are too lenient and should be lowered.
This fun-loving study was just published in The Lancet, where you can read it in full — and weep.
How alcohol shortens life expectancy
Prof. Wood and colleagues examined 83 prospective studies, which included information about people who don't drink versus that of "current drinkers."
The researchers examined the alcohol intake of 599,912 current drinkers. None of the subjects included in the study had any history of cardiovascular disease at baseline, and the scientists adjusted for age, sex, a history of diabetes, and smoking status.
All in all, the study counted 40,310 deaths and 39,018 cases of cardiovascular diseases during the period analyzed.
In short, the new research revealed that there is no such thing as beneficial moderate drinking. The "safe" drinking limit was as low as seven "standard" drinks per week, with anything above that increasing the risk of premature death.
More specifically, the safe amount of alcohol was found to be 100 grams of pure alcohol. This is the equivalent of just over seven standard drinks in the U.S., as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
A U.S. standard drink is equivalent to a small can of regular beer or a 5-ounce glass of red wine, with no more than 12 percent alcohol volume.
Anything above this threshold translated into a shorter life expectancy. People who had more than seven and up to 14 standard drinks per week, for example, were likely to have their life expectancy shortened by around 6 months.
Those who consumed over 14 drinks and up to 25 per week were likely to have 1–2 years taken off their lifespan, and a consumption of over 25 standard drinks per week correlated with 4–5 fewer years.
The life expectancy was calculated for a person who is 40 years old and would continue to drink at this rate for the rest of their life.
The final nail in the "moderate drinking is good for you" coffin came from the links that the scientists found between alcohol intake and cardiovascular illness.
The U.S. should lower its guidelines
The authors comment on the significance of the findings, suggesting that countries whose upper alcohol limits are higher than those of the United Kingdom should take note and lower them.
"This is a serious wakeup call for many countries," says Prof. Jeremy Pearson, an associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), a British non-profit organization that partially funded the study.
Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the BHF, says, "This powerful study may make sobering reading for countries that have set their recommendations at higher levels than the U.K."
The U.S. is definitely one such country. The official guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommend that men do not drink more than 196 grams of pure alcohol per week, and that women do not exceed 98 grams per week.
This amounts to no more than 14 standard drinks per week for men, and no more than seven for women, but the guidelines are still well above the 100-gram threshold proposed by the study.
"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold," adds Taylor.
"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."
Prof. Angela Wood