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Experts recommend that men not exceed 2 standard drinks per day while women limit their alcohol intake to 1 drink per day. Helen Rushbrook/Stocksy
  • New research shows that light drinking has no protective effect against endocrine conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  • Heavy drinking is associated with a host of negative health outcomes.
  • Underlying health conditions can exacerbate the risks posed by drinking.
  • Experts say that the only truly safe amount of alcohol is no alcohol.

A new study indicates that light drinking provides no protective effect against developing endocrine conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The research was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Researchers said their findings showed no benefits to alcohol consumption — even light to moderate drinking — when it comes to endocrine conditions.

Experts interviewed by Medical News Today say the research serves as a reminder that the only safe amount of alcohol is no alcohol at all.

It’s well understood that heavy drinking is unhealthy and a leading cause of preventable death.

However, conventional wisdom states that light drinking — such as a glass of wine a day — has health benefits.

Dr. Tianyuan Lu, the lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, told Medical News Today that the data provides compelling evidence that light drinking provides no protective benefits.

“Heavy drinking has been associated with multiple adverse health outcomes, which is what we confirmed in this study,” Lu said. “However, there has been a long-standing debate on whether light drinking has protective effects. Our study found that light drinking does not protect against obesity or type 2 diabetes.”

The researchers pulled data from more than 400,000 study participants from the U.K. Biobank.

Researchers reported that people who drank more than 14 drinks per week had higher risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Among those who drank 7 or fewer drinks in a week, there was no evidence of improved health outcomes.

Lu cautioned that while the study concludes that light drinking has no protective effect, this shouldn’t be confused with light drinking having a harmful effect.

Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today that the notion of light drinking being healthy is nothing more than a myth.

“There’s no evidence to support that,” he said. “All evidence suggests there’s really no safe amount of alcohol.”

Dr. Tejasav Sehrawat, a resident physician at Yale University in Connecticut who also was not involved in the study, concurred.

“There has always been debate about a ‘healthy’ amount of alcohol,” he told Medical News Today. “Recent large data metanalyses published in The Lancet as well as other studies over the last few years have demonstrated that the only healthy amount of alcohol is no alcohol.”

For anyone concerned about their drinking, it is helpful to understand the parameters at play.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, heavy drinking is defined as more than 2 standard drinks per day for men and more than 1 standard drink per day for women.

A CAGE questionnaire provides a straightforward self-assessment tool for anyone who drinks alcohol.

The acronym represents its four questions: Have you ever felt you need to cut down on your drinking? Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? Have you ever felt guilty about drinking? Have you ever felt you needed an ‘eye-opener’ first thing in the morning?

A ‘yes’ answer to any of the four questions is seen as highly suggestive that there may be a drinking problem.

Cutler says that it isn’t just the volume of drinking that can be harmful. Underlying medical conditions can be exacerbated by alcohol abuse.

“If [a patient] has any condition that might be worsened by alcohol, then they shouldn’t be drinking alcohol,” he stated. “That could be an intestinal disease, or any kind of operating problem that’s affecting them behaviorally, or nerve damage, heart damage, or pregnancy. The number of people who shouldn’t be drinking at all is quite large.”

Cutler also points out that alcohol guidelines are changing to reflect the body of evidence surrounding alcohol. Late last year, the government of Canada revised its guidelines to show that while 2 or fewer drinks per week makes a person likely to avoid negative health consequences, 3 or more carry increased risk.

“I think Canada’s ahead of the curve there,” said Cutler.

Sehrawat emphasized the fact that there’s a common misconception that certain drinks — such as red wine — are ‘healthier’ than others, saying that this generally isn’t the case.

“We should all be aware that alcohol is fast becoming the leading cause of preventable death across the globe, and alcohol-associated liver disease is trending up in younger populations at a rapid rate, with numerous cases between the ages of 25 and 30,” he explained.