Lancet Global Study Disproves Healthy Alcohol Consumption Theory

August 28th, 2018
Lancet Global Study Disproves Healthy Alcohol Consumption Theory

A large global study published recently in the Lancet health journal has confirmed previous research that says there isn’t a safe level of consumption of alcohol, offsetting the often-repeated claims about moderate drinking being healthy in what has been described as the most significant report into alcohol to date.

The study, Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, explored the connection between the use of alcohol and its health effects in 195 of the 206 countries in the world, with data spanning from 15 year olds to 95 year olds. The main comparison made by the study was between people who do not drink with those who drink one alcoholic drink a day.

The study shows that there is a slight increase of people who will develop an alcohol-related health problem or suffer an injury if they drink one drink a day compared to those that do not drink at all (918 out of 100,000 to 914 out of 100,000) within a year. This increased exponentially the more drinks are consumed, with 63 more developing a condition within a year if they drink two drinks a day, to 338 further people for three drinks.

Per 100,000 people, this is a relatively minor statistic, however, taken over the population of a country in the tens if not hundreds of millions, it is representative of a much larger issue, compounded by the fact that many drinkers are not having just one drink a day.

What the results also do is place the perceived wisdom that small amounts of certain alcoholic beverages have health benefits into a larger context, such as red wine helping protect against heart disease. Whilst this is confirmed by the study, the risk of injuries, infectious diseases and cancer increases to such a degree that it offsets the protection it offers from heart disease.

In 2016 the advice from the UK government on healthy alcohol intake changed from 21 units per week to 14 units, lowered by a third. A unit of alcohol is defined as a single shot of 40% alcohol, so 14 units is roughly 6 pints of beer or cider, 7 small glasses of wine or 14 shots of spirits.

The current advice that there is no safe level of drinking, however the University of Cambridge’s Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, Professor David Spiegelhalter, noted that there being no safe level of alcohol consumption is not by itself an argument for it to be banned, claiming that the same could be said of driving or indeed life itself.

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