Drinking will shorten your life, according to a study that suggests every glass of wine or pint of beer over the daily recommended limit will cut half an hour from the expected lifespan of a 40-year-old.
Those who think a glass of red wine every evening will help keep the heart healthy will be dismayed. The paper, published in the Lancet medical journal, says five standard 175ml glasses of wine or five pints a week is the upper safe limit – about 100g of alcohol, or 12.5 units in total. More than that raises the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm (a ruptured artery in the chest), heart failure and death.
The risks for a 40-year-old of drinking over the recommended daily limit were comparable to smoking, said one leading scientist. “Above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb,” said David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge.
“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th 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.”
There is still a small benefit to drinking, which has been much flagged in the past. It does reduce the chance of a non-fatal heart attack. But, said Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the study, “this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases.”
The big international study supports the new UK recommended limits of a maximum of 14 units a week for both men and women, which were fiercely contested when introduced by England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, in 2016. Other countries with higher limits should reduce them, it suggests. They include Italy, Portugal and Spain as well as the US, where for men the recommended limit is almost double.
The study included data from nearly 600,000 current drinkers included in 83 studies carried out in 19 countries. About half the participants reported drinking more than 100g per week, and 8.4% drank more than 350g per week. Early deaths rose when more than 100g per week, which is five to six glasses of wine or pints of beer, was consumed.