Leading Article: Not drinking can damage your health

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The Independent Online
THE findings of Professor Thorkild Sorensen and his colleagues at the Copenhagen Institute of Preventive Medicine about the ideal weekly intake of alcohol are encouraging for moderate, and even not so moderate, drinkers.

Several previous studies have suggested that a glass of wine daily helps to prevent heart disease and thus prolong life. The Danish study confirms that those who drink between one and six units of alcohol a week are likely to live longest.

What is striking - coming from such a long and thorough study - is the finding that the relative risk of death increases significantly only when intake reaches 42-69 units a week. It is at that relatively high level that mortality rates equal those of teetotallers, who were found to be one and a half times more at risk in the follow-up period of 10-12 years than the moderate one-to-six unit group.

In other words, not drinking can seriously shorten your life. So, naturally, can excessive drinking: those who took more than 70 units a week were two and a half times more likely to die than those ideal, restrained drinkers - presumably because any benefits to their hearts and circulatory systems were outweighed by liver damage.

The Danish study supports the findings of unpublished research by Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist who in 1954 first demonstrated that smoking causes lung cancer. In a study of 12,000 male doctors, the healthiest were found to be those consuming 20-29 units of alcohol a week. In terms of wine (which Sir Richard found only marginally more beneficial than beer or spirits), 29 units amounts to 4.8 bottles - well up on the government recommended maximum for men of 21 units. Further good news is that the impact of alcohol on mortality was found - contrary to received medical wisdom - to be the same for women as for men.

Researchers might now profitably turn from the effects of alcohol on mortality to its effects on moods and behaviour. Among questions that might be considered are: why does the same intake have such different effects on different people, rendering them variously aggressive, boorish, loquacious, witty and amorous? What is the optimum intake for a happy mean of geniality, and indeed for a good night's sleep? The findings could in turn influence that weekly intake.

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