That Extra Drink Could Take Years Off Your Life

Regularly exceeding alcohol-consumption guidelines is linked to reduced life expectancy, study concludes.



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Regular drinkers of red wine probably find comfort in research indicating that, in moderation, it may be good for our hearts. But that “in moderation” part may be more essential than we realized.

A new study found that consistently exceeding the recommended amount of alcohol consumption – specifically the U.K. guidelines, which set a threshold of about five drinks (five pints of 4 percent ABV beer or 6 oz. glasses of 13 percent ABV wine, for example) per week as the upper limit – can take years off your life.

Yeah, buzzkill.

The study, conducted by the University of Cambridge, partly funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the Lancet, looked at the drinking habits and health of more than 600,000 people across 19 countries. Drinking more than the recommended five drinks per week was linked to a lower life expectancy and a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysm and death, the authors concluded.

Tipping back 10 or more drinks per week on a regular basis could take a year or two off your life expectancy, the study found. Downing 18 or more drinks each week could lower your life expectancy by four to five years.

The study also looked at the link between drinking and cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart failure, fatal aneurysms and hypertensive disease and found no threshold below which drinking less was not beneficial.

On the (modestly) bright side, the study, which relied on self-reporting and observational data, did reaffirm the link between alcohol consumption and a slight reduction in the risk of non-fatal heart attacks. So there’s that. However, lead author Angela Wood, PhD, of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, notes, this benefit “must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious -- and potentially fatal -- cardiovascular diseases."

"If you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions,” Wood said in a news release announcing the study results.

In the same release, Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, called the study results “sobering.”

“We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold," she said.

Gulp. Mocktail, anyone?

Photo: iStock

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