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More Than Five Drinks a Week Could Shorten Lifespan

Summary: A new study reveals drinking more than five pints of beer or glasses of wine per week could decrease life expectancy. Drinking more than 10 alcoholic drinks a week is linked to a one to two year shortened life expectancy, researchers report.

Source: University of Cambridge.

Regularly drinking more than the recommended UK guidelines for alcohol could take years off your life, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. Part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, the study shows that drinking more alcohol is associated with a higher risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death.

The authors say their findings challenge the widely held belief that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health, and support the UK’s recently lowered guidelines.

The study compared the health and drinking habits of over 600,000 people in 19 countries worldwide and controlled for age, smoking, history of diabetes, level of education and occupation.

The upper safe limit of drinking was about five drinks per week (100g of pure alcohol, 12.5 units or just over five pints of 4% ABV beer or five 175ml glasses of 13% ABV wine). However, drinking above this limit was linked with lower life expectancy. For example, having 10 or more drinks per week was linked with one to two years shorter life expectancy. Having 18 drinks or more per week was linked with four to five years shorter life expectancy.

The research, published today in the Lancet, supports the UK’s recently lowered guidelines, which since 2016 recommend both men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week. This equates to around six pints of beer or six glasses of wine a week.

However, the worldwide study carries implications for countries across the world, where alcohol guidelines vary substantially.

The researchers also looked at the association between alcohol consumption and different types of cardiovascular disease. Alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysms, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure and there were no clear thresholds where drinking less did not have a benefit.

By contrast, alcohol consumption was associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.

The authors note that the different relationships between alcohol intake and various types of cardiovascular disease may relate to alcohol’s elevating effects on blood pressure and on factors related to elevated high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) (also known as ‘good’ cholesterol). They stress that the lower risk of non-fatal heart attack must be considered in the context of the increased risk of several other serious and often fatal cardiovascular diseases.

The study focused on current drinkers to reduce the risk of bias caused by those who abstain from alcohol due to poor health. However, the study used self-reported alcohol consumption and relied on observational data, so no firm conclusions can me made about cause and effect. The study did not look at the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course or account for people who may have reduced their consumption due to health complications.

Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the study said: “If you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions.

beer

The researchers also looked at the association between alcohol consumption and different types of cardiovascular disease. Alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysms, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure and there were no clear thresholds where drinking less did not have a benefit. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases.”

Victoria Taylor, Senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: “This powerful study may make sobering reading for countries that have set their recommendations at higher levels than the UK, but this does seem to broadly reinforce government guidelines for the UK.

“This doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels, many people in the UK regularly drink over what’s recommended. We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold.”

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7, and European Research Council.

Source: University of Cambridge
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies” by Angela M Wood, PhD, Stephen Kaptoge, PhD, Adam S Butterworth, PhD, Peter Willeit, MD, Samantha Warnakula, PhD, Thomas Bolton, MMath, Ellie Paige, PhD, Dirk S Paul, PhD, Michael Sweeting, PhD, Stephen Burgess, PhD, Steven Bell, PhD, William Astle, PhD, David Stevens, MSc, Albert Koulman, PhD, Randi M Selmer, PhD, Prof W M Monique Verschuren, PhD, Prof Shinichi Sato, MD, Prof Inger Njølstad, MD, Prof Mark Woodward, PhD, Prof Veikko Salomaa, MD, in The Lancet. Published April 13 2018,
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Cambridge “More Than Five Drinks a Week Could Shorten Lifespan.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 13 April 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/lifespan-alcohol-8779/>.
University of Cambridge (2018, April 13). More Than Five Drinks a Week Could Shorten Lifespan. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved April 13, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/lifespan-alcohol-8779/
University of Cambridge “More Than Five Drinks a Week Could Shorten Lifespan.” http://neurosciencenews.com/lifespan-alcohol-8779/ (accessed April 13, 2018).

Abstract

Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies

Background
Low-risk limits recommended for alcohol consumption vary substantially across different national guidelines. To define thresholds associated with lowest risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease, we studied individual-participant data from 599 912 current drinkers without previous cardiovascular disease.

Methods
We did a combined analysis of individual-participant data from three large-scale data sources in 19 high-income countries (the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration, EPIC-CVD, and the UK Biobank). We characterised dose–response associations and calculated hazard ratios (HRs) per 100 g per week of alcohol (12·5 units per week) across 83 prospective studies, adjusting at least for study or centre, age, sex, smoking, and diabetes. To be eligible for the analysis, participants had to have information recorded about their alcohol consumption amount and status (ie, non-drinker vs current drinker), plus age, sex, history of diabetes and smoking status, at least 1 year of follow-up after baseline, and no baseline history of cardiovascular disease. The main analyses focused on current drinkers, whose baseline alcohol consumption was categorised into eight predefined groups according to the amount in grams consumed per week. We assessed alcohol consumption in relation to all-cause mortality, total cardiovascular disease, and several cardiovascular disease subtypes. We corrected HRs for estimated long-term variability in alcohol consumption using 152 640 serial alcohol assessments obtained some years apart (median interval 5·6 years [5th–95th percentile 1·04–13·5]) from 71 011 participants from 37 studies.

Findings
In the 599 912 current drinkers included in the analysis, we recorded 40 310 deaths and 39 018 incident cardiovascular disease events during 5·4 million person-years of follow-up. For all-cause mortality, we recorded a positive and curvilinear association with the level of alcohol consumption, with the minimum mortality risk around or below 100 g per week. Alcohol consumption was roughly linearly associated with a higher risk of stroke (HR per 100 g per week higher consumption 1·14, 95% CI, 1·10–1·17), coronary disease excluding myocardial infarction (1·06, 1·00–1·11), heart failure (1·09, 1·03–1·15), fatal hypertensive disease (1·24, 1·15–1·33); and fatal aortic aneurysm (1·15, 1·03–1·28). By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was log-linearly associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction (HR 0·94, 0·91–0·97). In comparison to those who reported drinking >0–≤100 g per week, those who reported drinking >100–≤200 g per week, >200–≤350 g per week, or >350 g per week had lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1–2 years, or 4–5 years, respectively.

Interpretation
In current drinkers of alcohol in high-income countries, the threshold for lowest risk of all-cause mortality was about 100 g/week. For cardiovascular disease subtypes other than myocardial infarction, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk. These data support limits for alcohol consumption that are lower than those recommended in most current guidelines.

Funding
UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7, and European Research Council.

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