There is no safe level of alcohol consumption- new study

By June Shannon Policy News   |   24th Aug 2018

Alcohol kills 2.8 million people every year

Alcohol is associated with 2.8 million deaths every year worldwide and ranked as the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disability in 2016, a major new study has revealed.

The authors of the study also suggested that there was no safe level of alcohol as any beneficial effects against ischaemic heart disease were outweighed by the adverse effects on other areas of health, particularly cancers.

The Global Burden of Disease study found that alcohol was the leading cause of death for people aged 15-49 and in this age group, it was associated with tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm. For people aged 50 years and older, cancers were a leading cause of alcohol-related death.

The finding revealed that, for one year, in people aged 15-95 years, drinking one alcoholic drink a day increased the risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems compared with not drinking at all.

“The strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases, offset the protective effects for ischaemic heart disease ,”

Dr Max Griswold, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington in the US and lead author of the study

The study used data from 694 studies to estimate how common drinking alcohol was worldwide and 592 studies including 28 million people worldwide, to study the health risks associated with alcohol between 1990 to 2016 in 195 countries. In the study, a standard alcoholic drink was defined as 10g alcohol.

Some previous research has suggested that low levels of consumption can have a protective effect against heart disease and diabetes however, Dr Max Griswold, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington in the US and lead author of the study said, “the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases, offset the protective effects for ischaemic heart disease in women in our study.”

“Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more. Policies focusing on reducing alcohol consumption to the lowest levels will be important to improve health. The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to shed light on how much alcohol contributes to global death and disability.”

The highest number of current alcohol drinkers was in Denmark while the lowest was in Pakistan for men and Bangladesh for women. Men in Romania and women in Ukraine drank the most, whereas men in Pakistan and women in Iran drank the least.

"The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising."

Dr Max Griswold, , Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington in the US and lead author of the study

Ireland did not feature in the top ten countries with the highest number of people who currently drink alcohol. However, Ireland ranked number seven in the list of top ten countries where women drink the highest number of drinks a day at 3.1 drinks a day. This compared to the Ukraine which was number 1 in the list where women drink 4.2 alcoholic drinks a day, the UK 3 drinks a day (number 8 in the list) and Germany 2.9 drinks a day.

The health problems associated with alcohol at age 50 or older varied depending on region. In high-income countries, cancers were the most common alcohol-related premature death and disease, while in low-income countries tuberculosis was the leading cause, followed by cirrhosis and chronic liver diseases. In middle- and high-to-middle income countries stroke was the main alcohol-related burden.

The authors found that there was only a protective effect between alcohol and ischaemic heart disease, and there were possible protective effects for diabetes and ischaemic stroke, but these were not statistically significant. The risk of developing all other health problems increased with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed each day.

“This study shows alcohol is a global health problem and suggest there is no safe level of alcohol consumption,"

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director , Irish Heart Foundation

Combining these findings, the protective effect of alcohol was offset by the risks and overall the health risks associated with alcohol rose in line with the amount consumed each day. Therefore, the authors concluded that there was no safe level of alcohol.

Commenting on the study Dr Angie Brown, Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation said, “We know that many people in Ireland drink more than the recommended maximum safe level of alcohol. This study suggests that these limits should be even less. We know that alcohol has an effect on heart health it can increase the heart rate and blood pressure there are a lot of calories in alcohol which contributes to weight gain, it increases the chance of get in cardiac arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation). This is in addition to all the other deleterious effects alcohol has on our health discussed in this paper including an increased risk of cancer.”

“This study shows alcohol is a global health problem and suggest there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. At a minimum we should all be much more aware of how much we drink and try and cut down, drink less and ensure we have alcohol free days,” Dr Brown added.

This study was published in the Lancet

 

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alcohol alcohol. heart. stroke cancer heart disease high blood pressure

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