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Alcohol: redefined upper limit for low-risk consumption

16 Apr 2018 | Source: German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ)

Consuming regularly more than 100 grams of alcohol per week shortens life, according to the results of an international research consortium published in the latest issue of the journal "Lancet". Those who consistently consume more than two liters of beer or a bottle of wine per week risk more strokes, deadly aneurysms and heart failure, and a higher overall mortality.

The study, led by Angela M Wood and John Danesh, Cambridge University, compared the drinking habits of 600,000 people from 19 countries worldwide. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center were also involved in the project. The data came from 83 prospective studies that included participants between 1964 and 2014. The evaluation took into account age, tobacco consumption, education level and occupation.

The limit, above which the total mortality increased significantly, was 100 grams of pure alcohol per week. This corresponds to about two liters of beer or nearly a 0.75 l bottle of white wine. With increasing alcohol consumption, the mortality risk increases: An alcohol consumption of more than 200 g per week shortens the life expectancy by one to two years, a consumption of over 350 g per week even up to five years. Surprisingly, the scientists found no significant differences between men and women in alcohol-related mortality.

Increased alcohol consumption increased the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysms and heart failure, fatal hypertension, and total mortality. However, in this study the researchers also observed the well-known phenomenon that at moderate alcohol consumption fewer heart attacks occurred. But overall, the findings challenge the widespread assumption that moderate drinking has a beneficial effect on the mortality rate of cardiovascular diseases.

"At the moment, the recommendations on low-risk alcohol consumption within Western countries vary considerably," says Rudolf Kaaks from the German Cancer Research Center. "It would be sensible to strive for unification worldwide here. The current study provides a good basis for this."

Currently, the German Society of Nutrition (DGE) defines a maximum limit of 140 g per week for men and 70 g for women as a health-safe upper limit. In the US, on the other hand, 196 g per week is the upper limit, while the British advise men and women not to consume more than 140 g of alcohol per week.

Rudolf Kaaks would like to dispel a common misunderstanding. "The upper limit is not a goal that should be aimed at with personal drinking behavior. It should by no means be misunderstood as a recommendation to consume this amount of alcohol weekly."

Angela M Wood et al: Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data on 599,912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies. The Lancet 2018, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X

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