The ‘safest level of drinking is none,’ says alcohol study

A comprehensive worldwide study of alcohol use and its impact on health concludes that the safest level of consumption is zero.

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 has calculated levels of alcohol use and its effects on health during 1990–2016 in 195 countries.

The research, which now features in the journal The Lancet, notes that in 2016, alcohol use was responsible for almost 3 million deaths globally.

Alcohol use was the main cause of death for people aged 15–49 that year, accounting for 12 percent of deaths in men of that age.

“Our findings,” says senior study author Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, who currently works at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, “are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular problems.”

She and her colleagues conclude that the “safest level of drinking is none.” They explain that this is “in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day.”

The researchers calculated the health risk in people aged 15–95 years of consuming one alcoholic drink per day for 1 year compared with abstaining.

They revealed that this raised the risk of developing or experiencing 1 of the 23 “health problems” mentioned in the study by 0.5 percent.

At population level, this means that the number of individuals developing or experiencing 1 of the 23 problems over the course of a year is 918 out of every 100,000 for those who drink one alcoholic beverage per day, compared with 914 out of every 100,000 for those who don’t drink.

The health problems covered in the study include:

  • cardiovascular disorders such as stroke and heart disease
  • several cancers, such as of the breast, liver, and parts of the digestive tract
  • diabetespancreatitis, and other non-infectious diseases
  • tuberculosis, respiratory, and other infections
  • unintentional injury
  • violence
  • self harm
  • traffic-related injury

“Previous studies,” notes lead study author Dr. Max Griswold, who also works at the IHME, “have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol.”

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