Drinking the equivalent of 100-200g of pure alcohol a week shortened life expectancy by about six months compared to drinking less than 100g, they found. In the United States, that's about seven 12-ounce cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits. However, drinking above this limit was linked with lower life expectancy.
Consuming between 200-350g per week lowered life expectancy by one to two years, and more than 350g by up to five years.
Those exceeding 350g of alcohol every week could shed four to five years off their life.
"These data support adoption of lower limits of alcohol consumption than are recommended in most current guidelines", the report added.
The amount of alcohol in a standard drink varies from country to country.
Alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysms, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure and there were no clear thresholds where drinking less did not have a benefit. That interpretation is not likely to be welcomed by the alcohol industry, which has embraced the idea, backed by the medical establishment, that moderate drinking may be good for you by lowering the risk of a heart attack.
The authors note that the different relationships between alcohol intake and various types of cardiovascular disease may relate to alcohol's elevating effects on blood pressure and on factors related to elevated high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) (also known as "good" cholesterol).
But they said drinking at all levels increased the risk of cardiovascular illnesses. So the researchers, led by Cambridge University's Dr. Angela Wood, used only information about people who were current drinkers "because ex-drinkers include people who might have abstained from alcohol owing to poor health itself, as well as those who have changed their habits to achieve a healthier lifestyle", they wrote. Their findings indicate the US recommendation for alcohol is too high, could be leading to shorter life expectancies and therefore should be lowered.
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About half the participants said they had more than 100 grams of alcohol a week.
"When the US reviews their guidelines, I would hope they would use this as evidence to consider lowering the guidelines for men probably in line with female guidelines", the study's lead author, Angela Wood, a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge, told The Washington Post.
Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, a group that partially funded the study, said in a statement that it "is a serious wake-up call for many countries".
Men in the U.S. are advised to drink no more than 11 glasses of wine, or pints of beer, nearly double than in the UK.
University of Texas Southwestern researchers, in their study, have identified a hormone that acts on the brain to increase the desire to drink water in response to specific nutrient stresses that can cause dehydration.
Reference Wood, AM et al.
The study uses self-reported alcohol consumption across 19 high-income countries.