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Moderate alcohol consumption does not increase risk of early death

A recent study suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may not significantly increase the risk of early death for both men and women. The research, conducted by Canadian scientists, reviewed 107 studies involving more than 4.8 million people. 

However, the authors of the review caution that the studies they analyzed have several flaws, and they still maintain that moderate alcohol intake carries a small risk for serious diseases such as cancer.

The researchers assessed the odds of dying for non-drinkers in comparison to those with low, medium, high, or very high alcohol consumption. They found that women who drank moderately, consuming less than 25 grams of alcohol per day, experienced no significant increase in their risk of death compared to female non-drinkers. This amount of alcohol is equivalent to one large glass of wine or three small measures of gin.

Men were not significantly more likely to die than non-drinkers if they consumed a low or medium amount of alcohol, which is defined as less than 45 grams of alcohol per day. This is approximately three 330ml bottles of lager a day or almost two large glasses of wine.

Despite these findings, the researchers advise against using their results to create safe drinking guidelines due to the flaws in the studies they analyzed. In 86 of the studies, non-drinkers included former drinkers who may have quit drinking due to health issues, likely skewing the results. Additionally, some non-drinkers may be unwell, causing them to avoid alcohol and potentially making drinkers appear healthier by comparison.

The review, published in JAMA Network Open, discovered that the risk of early death did increase significantly beyond a certain alcohol consumption threshold, which was lower for women than men. For men drinking 45 to 64 grams of alcohol per day, the risk of early death was 15 percent higher than for non-drinkers. For women consuming 25 to 44 grams of alcohol daily, the risk was 21 percent higher.

“This review was set up to look at flaws in studies and how they bias estimates of alcohol’s health risks,” said Dr. Tim Stockwell, study co-author and former director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. He explained that compensating for these errors greatly reduced the apparent health benefits of moderate drinking and emphasized the need for stronger studies to determine the exact levels of alcohol consumption that increase the risk of premature death for both men and women.

A spokesperson for the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, representing major alcohol companies such as Heineken and Diageo, stated that the findings align with the broader evidence base, which suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with certain health benefits for some adults, including a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 

However, the experts said they do not recommend that anyone drink alcohol for its potential health benefits. They encouraged individuals with concerns about their drinking habits to consult healthcare professionals to determine the best course of action, which may include abstaining from alcohol altogether.


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