Don't drink more than quarter of a pint a DAY: Oxford study claims slashing the official alcohol limit would save 4,500 lives a year
Guidance would see recommended consumption cut to half a unit a dayFindings could influence first review of drinking advice for 15 years
12:55 GMT, 31 May 2012
Britons should drink no more than a quarter of a pint of beer a day, scientists have said.
More than 4,500 lives could be saved annually by changing official advice on ‘safe’ levels of alcohol intake, they believe.
It would mean recommended consumption – for men and women – would be cut to half a unit a day, the equivalent of just a couple of gulps of beer or three glasses of wine each week.
Guidance: Experts say 'safe' drinking levels are three to four units a day for men, or two to three for women
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The new advice flies in the face of previous studies, which have shown that drinking alcohol in moderation reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.
But the researchers, from Oxford
University, say this benefit is far outweighed by the harm to health
caused by regular drinking.
Cutting consumption could stem the
epidemic of alcohol-related chronic diseases set to cause 210,000 deaths
during the next 20 years. Currently, the Department of Health says
‘safe’ drinking levels are three to four units a day for men, or two to
three for women.
A small glass of wine contains 1.3 units, while a pint of beer contains at least two units.
But the new study says the ideal
intake to prevent chronic disease is five grams a day – around half a
unit. This is less than half a small glass of wine and just a quarter of
a pint of beer.
The findings could influence the first
review of drinking advice for 15 years, amid concern the existing limit
wrongly implies that daily drinking is healthy.
The review was prompted by a report
earlier this year from the Commons Science and Technology Committee,
which said advice on safe drinking was confusing. It suggested new
guidelines could tell people to observe two teetotal days a week.
For the new study, scientists led by
Dr Melanie Nichols, of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion
Research Group at Oxford University, analysed the death toll of 11
conditions known to be linked to long-term alcohol consumption.
They included heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy and five different cancers.
The team used data from large-scale
studies on drinking and chronic disease risk, combined with estimates of
weekly alcohol consumption among 15,000 adults in England from the 2006
General Household Survey. Just under a third of the adults were
Their results, published in online
journal BMJ Open, showed that cutting alcohol intake to half a unit a
day would avert 4,579 premature deaths in England each year.
This amounts to three in 100 of all deaths from the 11 conditions studied.
Regarding the positive effects of
alcohol on protecting against heart disease, the researchers pointed out
that cutting consumption would lead to 843 extra deaths per year.
this would be offset by a reduction of deaths including more than 2,600
from cancers and almost 3,000 from liver cirrhosis.
Dr Nichols said: ‘When all of the
chronic disease risks are balanced against each other, the optimal
consumption level is much lower than many people believe.
‘More than 4,000 deaths from cancer,
heart disease, stroke and liver disease in England could be prevented if
drinkers reduced their average level of alcohol consumption to half a
unit per person per day – a level much lower than current UK government
Earlier this year alcohol specialists
Professor Ian Gilmore and Dr Nick Sheron calculated that drinking would
cause 210,000 deaths in the next 20 years through illness, violence and
Figures show alcohol-related injuries and illness cost the
NHS in England 3.3billion a year.
Appleby, of the charity Alcohol Concern, said current guidelines were
already confusing – and telling people to drink very small quantities on
a daily basis was no less confusing.
said: ‘We need to make sure [guidelines] are an easy-to-understand way
of watching what you drink that’s practical for people to apply to their
A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'The Chief Medical Officer is reviewing current alcohol consumption guidelines.
'She will review the evidence on alcohol and health risks including whether advice is needed on the maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk in one session.'