Warning that drinking ANY amount of alcohol may raise risk of 60 diseases – including 33 that had never been linked to booze before
Liver cirrhosis, strokes and cancer are known risks of drinking alcohol
But researchers now say it can raise the chances of gout, cataracts and fractures
June 8, 2023
Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing 60 diseases, a major study suggests.
Liver cirrhosis – scarring caused by continuous, long-term liver damage – strokes and cancer are already well-established risks of excess boozing.
But Oxford University researchers, who analysed data from half a million men living in China, have now found it can raise the risk of gout and cataracts.
Other disorders never-before-linked to booze in the study include fractures, lung cancer and circulatory diseases.
Some of the links were apparent for low amounts of alcohol, even intake below NHS guidelines.
Experts said the findings show that drinking alcohol is liked to a ‘much wider range of diseases’ than previously thought.
Excessive alcohol consumption is estimated to be behind around 3million deaths worldwide each year.
The NHS advises men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, with one unit being half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) says that no amount of alcohol is safe.
However, this is fiercely debated. Studies have suggested that a glass of wine or pint of beer a day can stave off a host of illnesses.
Researchers from Oxford teamed up with academics at both Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences for the study.
How much alcohol is too much?
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the NHS advises men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
But the NHS warns the risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
Short-term risks include injury, violent behaviour and alcohol poisoning.
Long-term risks include heart and liver disease, strokes, as well as liver, bowel, moth and breast cancer.
People who drink as much as 14 units a week are advised to spread it evenly over three or more days, rather than binge drinking.
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised not to drink to reduce risks for the baby.
They examined data from a Chinese database containing the health information of more than 512,000 adults, aged 52 on average. It included details on their drinking patterns.
About a third of men drank alcohol regularly – at least once a week – while the rate was just two per cent among women.
As a result, women were used as a control group to confirm that excess disease risk in men were caused by alcohol drinking, rather than a mechanism related to genetic variants.
They analysed hospital records of 12 years to assess how alcohol affected the risk of developing 207 different diseases. Some weren’t medical diseases as such, with transport accidents and injuries also included.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, show alcohol use increases the risks of 60 diseases in men in China.
This included 28 diseases previously established by the World Health Organization as alcohol-related, such as liver, bowel and rectal cancers.
However, they also identified 33 not previously established, such as gout, cataract, some fractures and gastric ulcers.
Certain drinking patterns – such as drinking daily, binging or drinking outside mealtimes – particularly increased the risks of certain diseases, including liver cirrhosis.
The team also identified dose-dependent links, with every four drinks per day associated with a 14 per cent higher risk of having an alcohol-related disease.
Drinking this much alcohol also carried a six per cent increased risk of developing the 33 newly-identified alcohol-related diseases.
Additionally, every four drinks per day was linked with a more than two-fold higher risk of liver cirrhosis and gout.
Men who drank alcohol regularly had a higher risk of admission and of developing any diseases, compared to men who only drink occasionally.
The study demonstrates the influence that alcohol intake may have on risk of disease in populations around the world, the team said.
Pek Kei Im, study author, said: ‘Alcohol consumption is adversely related to a much wider range of diseases than has previously been established, and our findings show these associations are likely to be causal.’
Professor Liming Li, a senior author and CKB co-PI from Peking University, said: ‘Levels of alcohol consumption are rising in China, particularly among men.
‘This large collaborative study demonstrates a need to strengthen alcohol control policies in China.’
Iona Millwood, associate professor at Oxford Population Health and a senior study author, said: ‘It is becoming clear that the harmful use of alcohol is one of the most important risk factors for poor health, both in China and globally.’
Fellow researcher Professor Zhengming Chen said: ‘This study provides important causal evidence of the scale of alcohol-related harms, which is critical to inform prevention strategies in different countries.’
THE 60 DISEASES ALCOHOL INCREASES THE RISK FOR
Lip, oral cavity and pharynx cancer
Purpura and other haemorrhagic conditions
Other metabolic disorders
Less common psychiatric and behavioural conditions combined
Transient cerebral ischaemic attacks
Phlebitis and thrombophlebitis
Sequelae of cerebrovascular disease
Hypertensive heart disease
Essential (primary) hypertension
Complications of heart disease
Stroke, not specified
Occlusion and stenosis of cerebral arteries
Occlusion and stenosis of precerebral arteries
Other cerebrovascular diseases
Chronic ischaemic heart disease
Less common circulatory diseases combined
Unspecified chronic bronchitis
Other chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Alcoholic liver disease
Fibrosis and cirrhosis of liver
Other inflammatory liver diseases
Abscess of anal and rectal regions
Gastro?oesophageal reflux disease
Other diseases of digestive system
Other diseases of liver
Other local infections (skin/subcutaneous tissue)
Abnormal results of function studies
Malaise and fatigue
Other ill?defined/unspecified mortality causes
Unknown/unspecified morbidity causes
Fracture of shoulder and upper arm
Fracture of femur
Fracture of rib(s)/sternum/thoracic spine
Less common injury, poisoning and other external causes combined