The damaging effects of alcohol, which include memory loss, cirrhosis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and cancer, have long been established. However, these were mostly associated with excessive drinking. Moreover, moderate drinking has been linked with many health benefits, especially if it’s wine. These include reduced cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and risk of diabetes, as well as temporary relief from stress and anxiety. To enjoy these benefits without the harm, people were highly encouraged to drink moderate amounts of alcohol but avoid binge drinking.
The standard drinking level is different per country. In the U.S., it stands at 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to approximately 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine. Although there is a standard drinking level, each individual still has varied responses to alcohol intake. Some factors that could affect how a person responds to alcohol include age, sex, weight, pre-existing health conditions, and medications.
In this study, which was produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the researchers determined patterns for the health effects of alcohol from the years 1990 to 2016. These were determined based on age, sex, and the country of origin, which included a total of 195 countries. This study was one of the largest projects on alcohol consumption, with information coming from over 694 data sources and 592 risk assessment studies.
The authors of the study observed that more than 2.4 billion individuals were active drinkers, with 63 percent of them being men. They also saw that nearly three million deaths in 2016 alone were due to alcohol-related deaths. Moreover, they also found that drinking had negative effects on the following health outcomes:
These diseases could be observed in all alcohol drinkers but noticed that the risk increased as the amount consumed went up. In young people, the risk of alcohol-related health problems starts at 0.5 percent if only one drink is consumed in a day but it can rise up to 37 percent with five drinks.
The researchers also observed that there are also some benefits associated with moderate drinking, especially for ischemic heart disease and diabetes. However, the numerous health risks associated with alcohol still outweigh these two benefits. From these results, the authors of the study were able to come up with the conclusion that the safest level of alcohol consumption is zero.
"There is a compelling and urgent need to overhaul policies to encourage either lowering people's levels of alcohol consumption or abstaining entirely," said Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, a researcher from the University of Washington and the senior author of the study.
For years, alcoholic drinks came with the caution that they should be taken in moderation. However, it might be time to change this to a more appropriate warning that discourages any degree of alcohol consumption in order to stay healthy. (Related: Light alcohol consumption tied to increased risk of breast cancer in women.)
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