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No healthy alcohol consumption level, global study suggests

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Research shows that one in 13 breast cancers in the UK were alcohol related

A new global study published in the Lancet has concluded that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink. The warning comes from the Global Burden of Diseases study which claims that alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths worldwide in 2016.

It was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group, accounting for 20% of deaths.

‘Alcohol poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today,’ said Prof Emmanuela Gakidou, the report’s senior author.

‘Our results indicate that alcohol use and its harmful effects on health could become a growing challenge as countries become more developed, and enacting or maintaining strong alcohol control policies will be vital.’

The study was performed by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). They investigated levels of alcohol consumption and health effects in 195 countries between 1990 to 2016.

They used data from 694 studies to work out how common drinking was from 592 studies, including 28 million people worldwide, to work out the health risks.

‘Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increases with any amount of alcohol,’ said Dr Max Grisworld, lead author of the study at IHME.

‘The strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for heart disease in our study.’

‘Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.’

Drinking alcohol is a big cause of cancer in the over 50s, particularly women. Research shows that one in 13 breast cancers in the UK were alcohol related. The study found that globally, 27.1% of cancer deaths in women and 18.9% in men over 50 were linked to their drinking habits.

The study found that out of 100,000 non-drinkers, 914 would develop an alcohol related health problem such as cancer or suffer an injury.

In 2016, the UK government cut the levels of alcohol it recommends for men and women to no more than 14 units a week. This is equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine.

According to the Lancet, Denmark has the highest percentages of male and female drinkers in the world. They are: 97.1% for men and 95.3% for women.

‘Worldwide we need to revisit alcohol control policies and health programmes, and to consider recommendations for abstaining from alcohol,’ said Ms Gakidou.

‘These include excise taxes on alcohol, controlling the physical availability of alcohol and the hours of sale, and controlling alcohol advertising.’

‘Any of these policy actions would contribute to reductions in population-level consumption, a vital step toward decreasing the health loss associated with alcohol use,’ concluded Ms Gakidou.

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