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Drinking more alcohol leads to lower life expectancy, research finds

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Even one drink a day could be shortening your life expectancy says new study

A landmark analysis of more than half a million drinkers from 19 countries suggests that, to lower your risk of premature death from any cause, alcohol consumption should be capped at 100g per week. Germany also has varying suggestions for limits on alcohol consumption: 12 grams of alcohol, about one drink, for women per day and twice as much for men.

A standard drink contains 10g of pure alcohol and is equivalent to a half-pint of 4.5% lager, a small glass of a wine or a pub measure of spirits.

But the new findings, published on Friday in The Lancet, significantly undermine that claim.

Drinking alcohol was linked with a lower risk of non-fatal heart disease, but scientists said this benefit was "swamped" by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease.

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

"This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were previously believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes", said study co-author Dan Blazer of Duke University in North Carolina.

"Guideline developers tend to recognise that, in line with many other voluntary behaviours, drinkers are likely to be willing to accept some level of risk and have set guideline thresholds accordingly", she said.

"Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are almost 50 percent higher than this, and in the US, the upper limit for men is nearly double", the researchers found.

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Current Irish guidelines recommend a limit of 170g pure alcohol (17 standard drinks) per week for men and 110g pure alcohol (11 standard drinks) for women. None had a known history of cardiovascular disease. "The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life".

Commenting on the findings, Professor Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, said: "The study makes clear that on balance there are no health benefits from drinking alcohol, which is usually the case when things sound too good to be true".

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.

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

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

Alcohol guidelines vary substantially from country to country.

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