Look, we all like to let our hair down from time to time whether that’s binge watching Game Of Thrones, binge eating ice-cream, or both! Harmless enough maybe, and some might have that attitude with alcohol too because ‘it’s only a glass of wine of an evening…every evening’.
What we know
We know that consistently consuming more than the governments recommended maximum daily intake for alcohol increases risk of stroke, aneurysms, heart failure and ultimately death. We know this, and yet the lure of alcohol can be too much for some.
Now I speak very empathetically here, alcohol is addictive, it takes a hold on some so I am by no means meaning to scaremonger and shame. There is no shame in addiction, trust me. If there are underlying addictive issues with alcohol intake then please contact Alcoholics Anonymous. Anyone can profess the latest research BUT resolutions need to be available too, and AA is one of them.
Onto the Research…
The premise that alcohol could be good for you is wrong, the only suggestion with any validity behind it was red wine, mainly due to the resveratrol content, a compound understood to potentially extend life. However, the beneficial effects of resveratrol is when consume in isolation i.e. NOT with alcohol. Alcohol is not good for health full stop.
The researchers compared the health and drinking habits of over 600,000 people in 19 countries worldwide (a reasonable subject number then). To further validate the study (as you’d expect from Cambridge Uni) the researchers controlled for age, smoking, history of diabetes, level of education and occupation. All of these factors can throw research findings.
The upper safe limit of drinking was about five drinks per week equating to approx. 100g of pure alcohol or 12.5 units (5 pints of 4% beer or five 175ml glasses of 13% ABV wine).
Note the phrase ‘upper safe limit’, upper being the operative word, above and beyond this was considered dangerous to the extent that 10+ drinks a week was seen to reduce life expectancy by 1-2 years, 18+ drinks and you can wave bye-bye to 4-5 years of your life.
There are many potential causes of this lower life expectancy the researchers are linking to alcohol, but one of the main factors for the increased risk for heart related issues is alcohol’s ability to elevate blood pressure and systemic inflammation.
It is worth noting that the study was observational, and it also relied on subjects reported alcohol intake (which is dubious) making cause and effect hard to confirm.
Despite this, the findings are compelling and reinforce our government’s decision to lower the UK’s upper level on alcohol consumption (currently at 6 beers OR wines a day). Fellow Dietitian Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietician at the British Heart Foundation insists that upper limits should be seen as a limit and not a target – which is kind of the attitude on a lads night out!
Angela M Wood et al. Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies. The Lancet, 2018; 391 (10129): 1513 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X