A new study, of unprecedented size and scope, suggests even occasional alcohol consumption carries serious health risks, according to The Guardian. The conclusion of the study runs counter to most national recommendations, which usually promote limited quantities of wine or beer each day.
“Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none,” according to the authors of the ongoing University of Washington based Global Burden of Diseases Study, which published results in the Lancet on Thursday.
They found that alcohol was responsible for 2.8 million deaths in 2016, and was the number one risk factor for premature deaths between the ages of 15 and 49.
The study examined data from 195 countries from between 1990 and 2016, including 694 prior studies to determine levels of alcohol use, and another 592 studies with data from 28 million people to analyze the health effects.
While researchers did confirm, as many national health polices indicate, that limited daily consumption can help protect from heart disease and possibly diabetes and stroke, they found those benefits were overshadowed by risks. Particularly in women over 50, alcohol was closely linked to cancer. Worldwide, they found that 27.1 percent of cancer deaths in women and 18.9 percent in men were linked to alcohol.
In younger people, alcohol was linked to deaths caused by tuberculosis, car accidents, and self-harm. While risks for young people with one drink a day was shown to be minimal at 0.5 percent, they rise sharply with increased consumption. At two drinks a day the risk of health problems rises to 7 percent, and at five drinks a day the risk reaches 37 percent.
The study shows that one in three people worldwide drink alcohol, including 25 percent of women and 39 percent of men. Denmark and Norway topped the list for both men and women in terms of percentage of drinkers among the population.
According to the report’s senior author, Professor Emmanuela Gakidou:
“Alcohol poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today. Our results indicate that alcohol use and its harmful effects on health could become a growing challenge as countries become more developed, and enacting or maintaining strong alcohol control policies will be vital.”
In terms of how to minimize consumption through policy changes, she recommends:
“Worldwide we need to revisit alcohol control policies and health programs, and to consider recommendations for abstaining from alcohol. These include excise taxes on alcohol, controlling the physical availability of alcohol and the hours of sale, and controlling alcohol advertising. Any of these policy actions would contribute to reductions in population-level consumption, a vital step toward decreasing the health loss associated with alcohol use.”