United Kingdom: What level of alcohol is safe?

Mark Willingham Uncategorized

United Kingdom: What level of alcohol is safe?
Latest research suggests even moderate drinking carries health risk

The Week
August 18, 2022

A daily glass of wine a day has long been said to have health benefits but the latest evidence appears to suggest otherwise.

According to the NHS website, the “previously held position that some level of alcohol was good for the heart has been revised” and “it’s now thought that the evidence on a protective effect from moderate drinking is less strong than previously thought”.

As “new evidence around the health harms from regular drinking” has emerged, the idea of “safe” drinking levels has been replaced by “low risk” alcohol consumption, said the health service.

What is a ‘low risk’ level of drinking?

According to the latest guidelines from the UK Chief Medical Officer, to keep health risks from alcohol at a “low level”, both men and women should drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. That is equivalent to “six pints of average strength beer or six medium (175ml) glasses of average strength wine”, said Drinkaware.

The charity recommends having “several drink-free days” each week and avoiding binge drinking. Tips to keep “single occasion drinking” to a “low level” include “drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating with water”.

Under official guidelines, women who are pregnant or think they may be are advised to avoid alcohol completely, to ecogniz the potential risk to the baby.

Does ‘moderate’ drinking have any health benefits?

Previous research has suggested “there are some health benefits to drinking alcohol in moderation”, including raising “good cholesterol” levels and a lower risk of “all-cause mortality”, said Eating Well.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a moderate intake of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing and dying of heart disease; possibly reduce the risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to the brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow); and also possibly reduce the risk of diabetes.

But guidance on what level of alcohol is “safe” has shifted. In 2020, an expert advisory committee of the Dietary Guidelines for Americansrecommended that the daily advised limit for US men be lowered to one drink, the same as that for women.

What are the dangers of drinking too much?

While experts are divided on the benefits of alcohol, “they are clear on the harm of too much drinking”, said Healthline.

“Alcohol has a domino effect,” said Shivendra Shukla, a professor in the Medical Pharmacology Physiology department at the University of Missouri. “Once in the body, it has multiple pathways by which it can exert damaging effects. It’s just like a cluster bomb. The consequences can be very injurious.”

Despite being legal in most countries, alcohol “is one of the most addictive substances consumed worldwide”, said the America Addiction Centre. Harmful use of alcohol results in more than three million deaths every year.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Associationfound that binge drinking can significantly increase the risk for high blood pressure, stroke and congestive heart failure.

According to the NHS website, “type of illnesses you can develop after ten to 20 years of regularly drinking more than 14 units a week” also include cancers of the mouth, throat and breast; heart disease; liver disease; and damage to the nervous system.

Excessive drinking over a sustained period has been associated with increased mental health problems too, with research identifying strong links between alcohol misuse and self-harm.

Brain damage is another potential risk of drinking above the recommended limit. A 2021 study by Oxford University researchers who studied data on more than 25,000 middle-aged adults suggested that even “moderate consumption is associated with more widespread adverse effects on the brain than previously ecognized”.

The academics reported that “no safe dose of alcohol for the brain was found” and advised that “current ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines should be revisited”.