Excess alcohol consumption can significantly shorten a person’s life expectancy by increasing their risk of a stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death. That’s the sobering warning to come out of a study recently published in The Lancet medical journal.
The study – one of the largest of its kind – reveals that having more than just one glass of beer or wine a day can shave years off your life. In fact, anyone drinking over the UK government’s recommended limit of no more than 14 units per week (equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine) is increasing their risk of serious disease.
Perhaps more startling is the study’s finding that people who regularly consume more than 10 drinks a week risk cutting their life expectancy by up to two years, or up to five years for those drinking 18 or more. Every pint above the recommended limit can shorten a person’s life by 30 minutes.
Having tracked the drinking habits of 600,000 individuals across 19 countries for their study, the authors called for a global reduction in alcohol consumption limits, as well as better awareness among doctors of the risks of even staying under so-called “safe limits”. In the UK, they’d like to see the recommended limit reduced to below 12.5 units per week to reduce the risk of early mortality.
One study author, David Spiegelhalter, professor in the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said the risks associated with excess alcohol consumption were comparable to smoking.
“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life.
“This works out at 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,” he said.
Drinkers Also Have More Bad Bacteria In Their Mouths
Meanwhile, a separate study has found that people who regularly drink one or more alcoholic drinks each day have an overabundance of bad bacteria and a smaller number of good bacteria in their mouths, compared to their non-drinking peers.
Publishing their findings in the science journal Microbiome, the researchers New York University (NYU) said too many harmful mouth bacteria can lead to gum disease, heart problems and even some cancers.
However, it’s still too early to tell if these effects are due to drinking alcohol or the poor oral hygiene associated with alcohol consumption. For example, heavy drinkers are more likely to eat junk food after a night out and are often more likely to smoke – both of which could play a part in determining the bacteria found in their mouths.
Nevertheless, the findings of both studies should serve as a wakeup call for people who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol. We’ll have to wait and see if the UK government do indeed reduce the recommended limit to below 12.5 units per week, but in the meantime, people should keep an eye on their consumption.
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