Current guidelines on alcohol consumption are too high, say scientists. People should drink no more than three small glasses of wine a week to save more than 4,500 lives a year.
At the moment, safe drinking levels are considered three to four units day for men, and two to three for women. A small glass of wine contains 1.3 units, and a pint of beer contains two units.
A pint of beer contains two units of alcohol.
Previous studies have argued that drinking alcohol in moderation reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.
But researchers from Oxford University now say that this benefit is far outweighed by the harm to health caused by regular drinking. They want the official advice on safe levels of alcohol intake to be cut to half a unit a day.
Dr Nichols said: ‘When all of the chronic disease risks are balanced against each other, the optimal consumption level is much lower than many people believe.”
The British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group analysed the death toll of 11 conditions known to be linked to long term alcohol consumption, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and five different cancers.
Writing in the online journal BMJ Open, they say that cutting alcohol intake to half a unit a day would avert 4,579 premature deaths in England each year.
Whilst reducing consumption would lead to an extra 843 deaths from heart disease, this is far outweighed by the prevention of more than 2,600 deaths from cancers and almost 3,000 from liver cirrhosis.
Half a unit a day equates to half a small glass of wine and a quarter of a pint of beer. But Eric Appleby, of the charity Alcohol Concern, said:
‘We need to make sure [guidelines] are an easy-to-understand way of watching what you drink that’s practical for people to apply to their everyday lives.’
Figures show alcohol-related injuries and illness cost the NHS in England £3.3billion a year. The Chief Medical Officer is reviewing current alcohol consumption guidelines for the first time in 15 years.
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