In moderation, alcohol is generally considered to be safe and even thought to provide some health benefits. A recent study comes and contradicts many of these previous claims and recommends as little consumption as possible.
An extended international project involving 195 countries and spanning for more than two and a half decades, brought to light some concerning data. While there is some data supporting the idea that moderate drinking can be beneficial for some specific diseases, in particular heart disease and diabetes, the study warns that “these protective effects were offset by the risks associated with cancers, which increased monotonically with consumption”.
The article, published in The Lancet, provides a number of worrying statistics. For example, it was estimated that in 2016, alcohol use led to 2.8 million deaths worldwide and was the primary risk factor in premature death and disability among people with ages between 15 and 49 years. Young people are more at risk, especially men, as their attributable burden was about three times greater than for women.
The authors suggest that past findings are not as reliable as previously believed, because of small sample sizes, inadequate conditions of testing, non-optimal choices for control groups and results focused on specific conditions and not overall health.
With more than 2.4 billion regular drinkers, the study alerts that alcohol use is becoming a global issue and that the measures proposed by the World Health Organization might not be enough. It urges governments and lawmakers to take action as the “results point to a need to revisit alcohol control policies and health programmes”.
The paper concludes that: “We found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption, and the level of consumption that minimises health loss is zero. These results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption”.