Think a glass of red wine before bed will keep your heart pounding for years to come? Think again. New evidence suggests alcohol actually raises the risk of dying by a string of deadly, heart-related diseases—and it could take fewer drinks than ever imagined to unleash disaster..
Published in The Lancet last month, a large-scale study analyzed the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality using data from 83 studies and almost 600,000 current drinkers. Shockingly, the study found that drinking elevated the odds of untimely death by stroke, heart failure, hypertension, aneurysm (rupturing of the arteries)—and, ultimately, any cause.
Yet simply downing drinks isn’t enough to land you in an early grave: the study also slashed weekly drinking limits to a new low, calling widely-accepted drinking recommendations into question. For instance, the U.S. government suggests that women drink no more than 98 grams per week, and that men drink up to 196 grams (about twice as much as women). However, the new findings show that 40-year-olds who drink as little as 100 grams of alcohol per week—the equivalent of five glasses of wine, or 12.5 units of alcohol—are expected to die at least six months earlier than average, regardless of gender.
To put the graveness of heavy drinking into perspective, consider this: the risks of drinking above the recommended daily limit aren’t all that different from smoking, which has become the target of aggressive, nationwide campaigns over the last few decades. As David Spiegelhalter, a Winston professor at the University of Cambridge, told The Guardian, “above two units a day [of both alcohol and tobacco], the death rates steadily climb.”
“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units [the equivalent of 24 grams] a day above the guidelines has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy,” noted Spiegelhalter. “This works out to about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette.”
And compared to smoking, the consequences of surpassing drinking recommendations could be equally ruinous. According to the study, women who drink more than the U.S. weekly limit have a lower life expectancy of one to three years, whereas men who surpass the limit have a lower life expectancy of two to seven years.
Amid a heap of conflicting findings—and fears that even reputable research may be slave to biased funding sources—the Lancet study offers fresh insight into the potential dangers of alcohol consumption. However, it’s important to note that drinking standards still aren’t crystal clear. For one thing, the drinking guidelines suggested by the new study are still loose and variable. In an interview with The Washington Post, lead investigator Angela Wood said “there’s no magic number here . . . so it’s very hard to arrive at one single threshold below which everybody’s going to be safe from harm.”
Plus, a large number of individual considerations—including sex, consumption rate, and medication usage—could also mediate the effects of alcohol consumption, for better or for worse. That means there’s more to your future than the amount you drink, and scientists aren’t sure how it all factors into the drinking equation just yet.
Some people may give up alcohol completely to spare themselves the aftermath of over-drinking. But for many drinkers, abstinence doesn’t seem like an option. Luckily, these findings show that cutting back on drinking—even by a little—could save drinkers a few months or years of life. If your dream is to live healthier lifestyle (in spite of your current drinking habits), Ria Health can help you follow a loose set of drinking guidelines to lower your risk of early death. Our program promotes harm reduction as well as abstinence, meaning we’ll work with you to achieve your goals whether they include alcohol or not.
Are you ready to transform your health and bring your heart health back onto the front burner? If so, visit our website to find out how we can give you a head start.
Kimberly Nielsen writes about health issues, and has written for various scientific newspapers and blogs. She is currently studying biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and plans to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health.