Cutting booze could save lives
Thousands of lives could be saved if Britons slashed their booze consumption, new research suggests.
Cutting average daily alcohol intake to the equivalent of around half a small glass of wine would prevent almost 4,600 premature deaths a year in England alone, it is claimed.
Scientists used a mathematical model to show that the ideal level of alcohol consumption to prevent chronic disease in England was five grams, or about half a unit.
A small 125ml glass of wine contains 1.3 units. Current British government guidelines of between three to four units per day for men and two to three for women “may not be compatible with optimum protection of public health,” say the authors.
Scientists led by Professor Martin Jarvis, from University College London, calculated the death toll impact 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 worked into its equations the results of large scale studies on drinking and chronic disease risk.
Estimates of weekly alcohol consumption among 15,000 adults in England were obtained from the 2006 General House-hold Survey.
The results, published in the online journal BMJ Open, showed that cutting alcohol intake to just over half a unit a day would avert 4,579 premature deaths in England each year.
This amounts to three per cent of all the deaths from the 11 conditions studied.
A daily intake of just five grams of alcohol would lead to 843 extra deaths per year from heart and artery disease, the researchers point out.
But this would be offset by a reduction of more than 2,600 deaths from cancer and almost 3,000 from liver cirrhosis.
The scientists wrote: “Current recommendations for alcohol consumption are well above this level and may not be compatible with optimum protection of public health.
“Substantial reductions in recommendations and in population alcohol consumption levels would be needed to minimise the chronic disease burden associated with alcohol consumption in England.”
Previous research has shown that moderate alcohol consumption protects against heart disease.
But the authors of the new study believe this message has been overstated.
They wrote: “Our modelling shows that when multiple conditions are considered simultaneously, the levels of alcohol that would actually be likely to be associated with reduced risk of chronic disease are much lower than is generally accepted or recommended by the Government”.
The researchers concluded: “We recommend that the public health target for alcohol consumption in England should be to reduce the median (average) alcohol consumption to half a unit per day for both men and women and to maintain the current level of non-drinkers within the population.”
Eric Appleby, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, said: “The unit of alcohol is a measurement created to be a useful tool to help ordinary drinkers gauge their alcohol intake and avoid levels of drinking that are risky to their health.
“Although the government’s recommended drinking guidelines are based on medical recommendations, we need to make sure they are an easy-to-understand way of watching what you drink that’s practical for people to apply to their everyday lives.
“As alcoholic drinks have started to vary in strength we use units to measure alcohol intake but it can be very difficult for people to understand what this means in practical terms.
“Although the findings of this study will be valuable for the Department of Health working group currently reviewing the drinking recommendations, the focus of the guidelines must be to gain the maximum acceptance by the drinking public, and to offer a realistic way of reducing the risks associated with drinking.”