Published on 13 April 2018
The more you drink, the greater the impact on your health.
University of Sunderland experts have warned about the health implications of alcohol as a major new study claims that just one drink a day could shorten your life.
It comes after an analysis of 600,000 drinkers found that drinking five to 10 alcoholic drinks a week could potentially impact on life expectancy by up to six months.
This increases with higher alcohol consumption, with those who have 18 drinks or more losing up to five years of life, claims the study, partly funded by the British Heart Foundation.
Scientists, who compared the health and drinking habits of alcohol drinkers in 19 countries, calculated how much life a person could expect to lose if they drank the same way for the rest of their lives from the age of 40.
The study, published in The Lancet, claims up to five drinks a week has no significant shortening of life, while five to 10 drinks can shorten life by up to six months, 10-15 by one to two years, while more than 18 drinks a week can reduce life expectancy by four to five years.
The study was welcomed with caution by health experts at the University of Sunderland.
John Mooney, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Sunderland and Public Health Specialist with Sunderland Council, said: "While these are powerful large scale population studies with reliable findings, the risk at an individual level of an extra glass of wine is virtually impossible to predict/quantify.
“The key message is that the greater your alcohol consumption, the more likely it is that your health and life expectancy will be adversely affected, so to avoid this you should aim to drink only within the recommended government guidelines, as recently clarified by the Government's Chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies: The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend adults do not regularly drink more than 14 units per week.”
The Government guidelines work out at around the equivalent of about six drinks a week. Recommended limits in parts of Europe including Italy, Portugal, and Spain are almost 50% higher than this.
Many drinkers remain confused by contradicting reports and findings, with some studies claiming drinking red wine in moderation can be good for the heart, whilst others disagree.
According to the latest study, drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cardiovascular illnesses. For every 12.5 units of alcohol people drank a week it raised the risk of stroke by 14%, heart failure by 9% and fatal hypertensive disease by 24%
Dr Paul Innerd, a Clinical Exercise Physiologist at the University of Sunderland, said: “Whilst I find this study highly reliable, the debate about the effect of alcohol will continue, because alcohol is so socially accepted.
“As studies get bigger and better we find more evidence which shows alcohol is harmful in smaller and smaller amounts. But it takes time to produce these large studies. So is simply putting alcohol into your body a good idea?
“Right now, many people I talk to are still confused.
“Therefore, for people wondering whether they should drink alcohol, or if what they’re drinking could be damaging them, I always ask them to consider the following.
“Alcohol can seep into every cell in the body. When it gets in there it damages DNA. DNA damage is what increases ageing and increases our cancer risk.
“It causes your body to get rid of water, it’s a diuretic, and considering 70% of your body is water this is not good.
“It may help you fall asleep but alcohol disrupts your sleep quality. It reduces R.E.M. sleep, the phase of sleep where you dream which is when restorative processes are carried out in the brain. Typically, you’ll find you wake up in the early hours after drinking later at night.
“A healthy lifestyle involves good diet, physical activity, not smoking and not too much alcohol. So the question remains, ‘what is too much? People should always remember these fundamentals if they’re considering whether it’s a good idea to put alcohol in their body in the first place.”