People who enjoy the odd alcoholic drink (that’ll be most of us then!) are less likely to suffer a premature death than those who don’t drink at all, new research has revealed.
Chugging up to three glasses of wine or beer a week could lower the risk of dying from any cause, and in particular cancer, according to a new study by researchers at Queens University, Belfast.
But before you crack open another bottle, scientists have also warned that there is a catch (Isn’t there always a catch?) in that the risk of a deadly illness rises slightly among more regular quaffers.
For the study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the researchers analysed data about lifetime alcohol use of nearly 100,000 US participants aged between 55 and 74, for an average of nine years.
Participants completed a dietary survey with questions on their alcohol intake at various stages of their life.
The researchers also looked at data on the number of primary cancer diagnoses (meaning it was the first time the person had been diagnosed with cancer) and deaths that occurred over the next nine years.
Researchers divided the volunteers into eight groups, based on how much alcohol they drank, from none at all to heavy drinkers.
The results revealed that people who drank some alcohol had a lower risk of cancer and death from any cause during a nine-year period than those who drank more or none.
In particular, people who had fewer than seven drinks a week had the lowest risk of cancer and death, compared with those who had seven or more drinks a week.
The findings also found that with each additional drink per week, the risk of cancer and death from any cause increased.
Very heavy drinkers (three or more drinks each day) had the highest risk of dying early or developing cancer at 21 per cent.
This group were followed by heavy drinkers (two to three drinks each day), who were 10 per cent more likely to die young or get cancer.
Infrequent drinkers (one drink each week) had an eight per cent higher risk, while it was calculated to be seven for per cent for abstainers.
Interestingly, there was no extra risk of cancer or dying prematurely for somewhat light drinkers (those who supped between three and five drinks each week).
However, light moderate drinkers (five to seven drinks each week) and moderate drinkers (one to two drinks each day) faced slightly higher odds.
Teetotallers should take note that those who have never touched a drop of alcohol have a 7% higher chance of earlier death or being diagnosed with cancer.
Alcohol consumption risk
The study, is one of the first to look at average lifetime alcohol intakes.
Current UK guidelines from the NHS advise a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week – six pints of average strength beer or seven medium sized glasses of wine.
Commenting on the findings Dr Andrew Kunzmann, lead author, said: “Previous studies have consistently found light to moderate drinkers live longer than lifetime teetotallers.”
“The evidence from cancer research gives a different impression – even light to moderate alcohol consumption is linked with an increased risk of cancer.
‘”These differences have led to confusing public health messages about the health impacts of light to moderate alcohol consumption and what counts as drinking in moderation.”
Dr Kunzmann hopes the findings will provide a clearer message about the alcohol consumption risk.
“To help give a clearer message, we decided to assess both cancer and mortality outcomes together, using the same methods and same population, to see what the overall link between alcohol and these major outcomes are.”
“Drinking alcohol is a personal choice and it is not our aim to tell people whether they can or can’t drink. The aim of this study is to provide robust evidence so that people can make informed, healthy decisions about their alcohol intake.”
But he had a word of warning about the interpretation of the results.
“We urge caution in interpreting the results comparing light drinkers to lifetime teetotallers, though, as the reasons for the reduced risk of cancer or early death in light drinkers are still being debated by scientists.”
While the debate goes on, we’ll take our chances on another glass of fizz.
*Clinking glasses emoji*
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