What exactly does ‘drinking in moderation’ mean?

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recommended alcohol intake

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A new meta-analysis indicates that drinking amounts even lower than the recommended alcohol intake per week is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and shorter lifespans.

Every country has slightly different amounts for recommended alcohol intake. The Canadian guidelines recommend no more than two drinks per day (10 per week) for women and three drinks per day (15 per week) for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions. France’s guidelines recommend that women should not exceed 14 glasses of alcohol per week and that men should not exceed 21 glasses of alcohol per week.

An international team of over 120 researchers conducted a meta-analysis of studies on alcohol consumption, cardiovascular health, and life expectancy. The researchers analyzed 83 published in 19 countries between 1964 and 2010. Combined, there were nearly 600,000 participants, with an average age of 57 years.

The team accounted for factors such as age, sex, smoking behaviour, diabetes, and physical exercise. They then used statistical analyses to calculate how different levels of alcohol consumption affected the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease or to die, all causes combined.

Of the 599,912 participants (followed an average of 7.5 years). About half of the participants reported drinking more than 12.5 units (100 g) of alcohol per week.  Data indicated that 40,310 died and 39,018 were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Their results were recently published in The Lancet.

The study found that:

  • Consuming up to 12.5 units, or 100 g, of alcohol per week, was associated with the lowest risk of death
  • When alcohol consumption exceeded 37 units per week, the risk of death increased by more than 30%
  • Each additional consumption of 12.5 units of alcohol per week increased the risk of stroke by 14%
  • Each additional consumption of 12.5 units of alcohol per week increased the risk of a heart attack 6% and also increased the risk of other cardiovascular diseases
  • At the age of 40 years, consuming between 12.5 and 25 units per week was associated with a six-month reduction in lifespan. Consuming between 25 and 44 units per week was associated with a reduction of one to two years of the lifespan. Consuming more than to 44 units per week was associated with a four-to-five-year reduction in lifespan. These results held true for both men and women.

In short, drinking more than eight glasses of wine or beer in a week was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and premature death. These results support adopting lower recommended alcohol intake in most countries’ guidelines.

Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD

References:

  1. Wood, A. M., Kaptoge, S., Butterworth, A. S., Willeit, P., Warnakula, S., Bolton, T., … & Bell, S. (2018). Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption. Lancet. DOI:  10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X
  2. Drinking Guidelines | Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction [Internet]. Ccdus.ca. 2018 [cited 20 September 2018]. Available from: http://www.ccdus.ca/Eng/topics/alcohol/drinking-guidelines/Pages/default.aspx

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