Even one drink a day has health risks

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Drinking 200 to 350 grams per week was estimated to reduce life span by one to two years and drinking more than 350 grams per week by four to five years.

A standard drink refers to 10 grams of pure alcohol, but a serving of alcohol usually differs from a "standard" drink. They stressed 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 included dozens of researchers from around the world and almost 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries.

A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

The scientists found that 12.5 units a week was the upper safe limit before a heightened risk of premature death, but they said that drinking in any quantities increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular illnesses. The risks of drinking over the allowed weekly limit for a 40-year-old were comparable to smoking, according to the study's authors.

The recommended limits in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are nearly 50% higher than this.

The findings were roughly the same for both men and women, suggesting recommended levels for both sexes should be the same.

The researchers found a higher risk of stroke, heart failure and other problems in that group of heavier drinkers.

"Although non-fatal heart attacks are less likely in people who drink, this benefit is swamped by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease including fatal heart attacks and strokes".

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Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Tony Bartone told The New Daily the findings were a "wake-up call" for drinkers to consume no more than one-and-a-half standard drinks a day.

"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold", said Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation.

The study was published this week in The Lancet.

"What it shows is that the amount of alcohol consumed affects the risk of dying", says Yeap. More than that raises the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm (a ruptured artery in the chest), heart failure and death.

They found people who drank the equivalent of about five to 10 drinks a week could shorten their lives by up to six months.

The researchers suggest that the government recommendations for safe alcohol need to be rethought. During the following weeks volunteers each week used from 100 ml of alcohol.

In contrast, drinking more was associated with a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks. But for those who do, the US Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines recommend women limit their consumption to no more than one drink per day (98 grams per week) and men to two daily drinks (196 grams per week).

The majority of people believe that moderate drinking is actually beneficial to cardiovascular health, but the study shows that UK's new lower guideline of moderate alcohol intake is a good measure.

"Evidence reviews on the health effects of alcohol consumption are now underway, which will help inform the recommendations in the revised guidelines", a spokesman says.