Alcohol: No More Than 5 Drinks A Week Says New Lancet Study

Here’s the big, new Lancet study on alcohol that is now over a week old so the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can go on promoting drinking too much alcohol which makes the alcohol industry happy.

Risk Thresholds For Alcohol Consumption: Combined Analysis Of Individual-Participant Data For 599,912 Current Drinkers In 83 Prospective Studies, The Lancet, 14 April 2018

They were looking for a threshold, an amount you could drink that wouldn’t cause harm:

Background: Low-risk limits recommended for alcohol consumption vary substantially across different national guidelines. To define thresholds associated with lowest risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease, we studied individual-participant data from 599 912 current drinkers without previous cardiovascular disease.

They found that there was no threshold. Alcohol, at any and all intakes, increased risk for disease:

Interpretation: In current drinkers of alcohol in high-income countries, the threshold for lowest risk of all-cause mortality was about 100 g/week. For cardiovascular disease subtypes other than myocardial infarction, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk. These data support limits for alcohol consumption that are lower than those recommended in most current guidelines.

They said if you wanted to drink alcohol, the lowest risk (not non-risk) was had from about 100 grams a week or less.

What is 100 grams of alcohol?

  • 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol is 0.6 ounces or about 17 grams ethanol.
  • 12 ounces of beer at 6% alcohol is 0.72 ounces or about 20 grams ethanol.

100 grams of alcohol works out to about 6, 5-ounce servings of wine a week (about a half cup each, see photo), or 5 glasses of beer a week (12 ounces each).

From the Washington Post:

A sweeping international study of alcohol consumption has found no overall health benefits from moderate drinking and calls into question the U.S. guidelines that say men can safely drink twice as much as women.

Alcohol consumption, even at that allegedly moderate level, is also associated with a suite of cardiovascular problems, including stroke, aortic aneurysm, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure.

Alcohol consumption is also associated with higher risks of several types of cancer, including breast cancer. The new study confirmed an association between drinking and cancers of the digestive system.

From The Guardian:

Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield said, “This 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.”

Prof Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, called it “a serious wakeup call for many countries.”

In a commentary in the Lancet, Profs Jason Connor and Wayne Hall from the University of Queensland Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research in Australia, anticipated that the suggestion of lowering recommended drinking limits will come up against opposition.

“The drinking levels recommended in this study will no doubt be described as implausible and impracticable by the alcohol industry and other opponents of public health warnings on alcohol. Nonetheless, the findings ought to be widely disseminated and they should provoke informed public and professional debate.”

Given the significant association of alcohol to breast cancer (“There is no level of alcohol use that is completely safe in terms of breast cancer.”) and dementia, I’m beginning to see the alcohol industry’s advice to consume their product “in moderation” as misogynistic and ageist. Actually, it’s misandristic too since current US guidelines state that men can drink twice the amount as women. This study found that was not the case. The UK has already changed their guidelines.

If you drink, it’s a good idea to take a “liver holiday” 2 or 3 times a week. Those are days you don’t consume any alcohol at all. That gives your liver and the cells that line your throat, esophagus, and stomach time to heal. It’s also fewer days they are exposed to acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol metabolism that’s thought to promote cancer. (See also: “Liver Holiday” May Do Drinkers Some Good“)

No doctor worth their certification should be failing to assess their patient’s alcohol intake.

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