Alcohol: Cancer risk 'increased' by drinking more than one glass of wine or pint of beer per day, experts warn

The UK is now one of few countries to advise the same alcohol limit for both sexes

Jess Staufenberg
Friday 08 January 2016 09:21 GMT
Wines will be chosen from around the world
Wines will be chosen from around the world

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Drinking more than one glass of wine or pint of beer a day increases the risk of developing cancer, according to medical experts.

New guidelines for alcohol consumption by the UK published Friday by chief medical officers warn that drinking any level of alcohol has been linked to a range of different cancers.

The evidence from the Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) overturns the oft-held view that a glass of red wine can have significant medical benefits for both men and women.

Instead, the committee says that people who do not drink are significantly at less risk of cancer than those who do, and even those who give up drinking may take years before they reach the low risk level of cancer in teetotallers.

Dame Sally Davies has also defended the new guidance from critics who have accused her of "scaremongering" the public with advice that goes "too far".

In the greatest overhaul of official medical advice on alcohol in 20 years, men are now being advised to drink the same level of alcohol as women - no more than six or seven pints, or small glasses of wine, a week.

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said: "Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low."

She added that pregnant women should not drink any alcohol whatsoever, rather than the currently recommended limit of one to two units once or twice a week.

Even the idea that certain wines, drunk once in the evening, can aid good health is challenged in the new report.

The benefits of alcohol for heart health only apply for women aged 55 and over - and only when wine is limited to around two glasses a week - the COC report found.

Drinking for health reasons is "not justified", the group concluded.

Yet some critics have said the new guidance amounts to "nanny state intervention", the Daily Telegraph has reported.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said alcohol consumption was falling in the UK and the strong guidelines were unnecessary.

"The change to the guidelines will turn hundreds of thousands of people into 'hazardous drinkers' overnight, thereby reviving the moral panic about drinking in Britain and opening the door to yet more nanny state interventions," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Dame Davies disputed this accusation, saying the guidance was based on clear evidence that cancers increase with the amount of alcohol consumed.

“If you take 1,000 women, 110 will get breast cancer without drinking. Drink up to these guidelines and an extra 20 women will get cancer because of that drinking. Double the guideline limit and an extra 50 women per 1,000 will get cancer," she told BBC Breakfast.

"Take bowel cancer in men: if they drink within the guidelines their risk is the same as non-drinking. But if they drink up to the old guidelines an extra 20 men per 1,000 will get bowel cancer.

"That’s not scaremongering, that’s fact and it’s hard science.”

By bringing men's alcohol consumption down from 21 units a week to 14, meanwhile, the UK is now one of a few countries to have the same drinking recommendation for both sexes.

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