Having as little as one alcoholic drink a day could shorten your life, according to a major new study.
An analysis of 600,000 drinkers found that drinking five to 10 alcoholic drinks a week was likely to shorten a person’s life 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.
Experts said it challenged the idea that light drinking was good for us.
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.
They found the upper safe limit of drinking before there was an increased risk of death was around 12.5 units a week – the equivalent of about five pints of beer or five 175ml glasses of above-average strength wine.
But they said drinking at all levels increased the risk of cardiovascular illnesses.
For every 12.5 units of alcohol people drank a week it raised the risk of:
- Stroke by 14%
- Fatal hypertensive disease by 24%
- Heart failure by 9%
- Fatal aortic aneurysm by 15%
Drinking alcohol was linked with a lower risk of non-fatal heart disease, but scientists said this benefit was “swamped” by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease.
The large analysis challenges the idea that drinking in moderation can be healthy for us, experts said.
Previous studies have suggested that drinking red wine can be good for our hearts, although some scientists have suggested these benefits may be overhyped.
Another Danish study found drinking three to four times a week was linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
“This study makes clear that on balance there are no health benefits from drinking alcohol, which is usually the case when things sound too good to be true,” Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the research said.
“Although non-fatal heart attacks are less likely in people who drink, this benefit is swamped by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease including fatal heart attacks and stroke.”
Authors said the study backed up the UK’s recently lowered guidelines, which since 2016 recommend both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the equivalent of about six drinks a week.
Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are almost 50% higher than this, and in the USA the upper limit for men is nearly double this.
But Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, which partly funded the study, said this did not mean the UK “should rest on its laurels”.
“Many people in the UK regularly drink over what’s recommended” she said.
“We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold.”
Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the study said: “The key message of this research is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions.”