More than a glass of wine a day could shave years off your life warns study calling for global reduction in alcohol limits

Each drink above low-risk limit amounts to half an hour less life, scientists said

Dry January: Kate Garraway suggests Brits have a problem with alcohol after giving up drinking for month

Drinking more than a glass of wine or beer a day shaves years off your life according to one of the largest ever studies on alcohol harm which found even low-level drinking brought significant health risks.

Anyone drinking much over the UK recommended limits, about five medium (175ml) glasses of wine or pints of four per cent beer, was shortening their life span, and increasing their risk of serious disease

Regularly having more than ten drinks a week cut life expectancy by up to two years, or up to five years for those drinking 17 or more.

Every half pint above the low-risk threshold amounts to “about 15 minutes” off your life, scientists said.

After tracking the habits of 600,000 drinkers across 19 countries the authors called for a global reduction in alcohol limits and better awareness among doctors that even staying under “safe limits” posed a risk.

The study, published in The Lancet medical journal today, did find evidence that people who drank a moderate amount had a 20 per cent lower rate of non-fatal heart attacks.

“But this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases,” according to the study’s lead author, Dr Angela Wood of Cambridge University.

Alcohol consumption at any level was associated with higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease (high blood pressure) and fatal aneurysms.

The risks increased with the amount of alcohol drunk and above the five-drinks-a-week threshold any reduction in heart attacks, or other benefits, were negated.

These discrepancies between heart attacks versus other cardiovascular disease is thought to be down to the differing impact of alcohol on blood pressure and the types of cholesterol circulating in the body.

“The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions,” Dr Wood added.

Around half of people in the study said they drink more than the safe limit of 100g of alcohol a week, which is roughly equivalent to the recommended limit in the UK, Canada and Sweden.

By contrast the US recommends not drinking more than 196 grams a week, roughly 11 glasses of wine, and the low risk limits in Italy Portugal and Spain were all around 150gs of alcohol.

“Doctors and other healthcare professionals must heed this message and transmit it to their patients. This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes,” said study co-author, Dr Dan Blazer from Duke University in the US.

While UK studies have shown reductions in the amount being drunk by younger generations, academics said more needed to be done to help older people in retirement.

“This is a massive and very impressive study,” said Professor David Spiegelhalter, a professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University who was not involved with this study.

“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 twentieth of their remaining life.

“This works out at about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette.

“Of course it’s up to individuals whether they think this is worthwhile.”

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.”

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