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Protective effects of alcohol should be treated with caution

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The protective effects of alcohol are limited The protective effects of alcohol are limited

The effect of alcohol consumption on protecting a person from developing cardiovascular disease is limited and is outweighed by the risks excessive alcohol consumption causes, a study published in the BMJ has found.

A group of British and Australian researchers explored the association between alcohol consumption and mortality in different age groups to determine the suitability of age-specific alcohol limits in England. They used data collected by Health Survey for England between 1998 and 2008 to analyse measure the protective effects of alcohol. Participants gave information about their weekly alcohol consumption on the heaviest drinking day of the week.

Compared with 'never drinkers', protective associations were limited to men aged between 50 to 64 years who usually consumed 15 to 20 units per week. Women aged 65 and over who reported consuming 10 units or less on average per week and at all levels of heaviest day use were also covered by the protective associations. Little to no protection was found in the other groups, regardless of consumption level.

The authors concluded that the study 'may have better isolated the true effect of alcohol consumption on mortality.' They also said that their results did not support the introduction of age-specific recommended alcohol limits for persons aged 65 years and over.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also updated its guidelines on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The guidance states that women should not drink alcohol during the first three months of their pregnancy. It also states that drinking alcohol might affect the unborn baby as some will pass through the placenta and drinking around conception and during the first three months may increase the chance of miscarriage. After the first three months, women are advised to drink no more than one to two units of alcohol a week.

Philippa Marsden, chair of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' patient information committee, said: 'For women planning a family, it is advisable not to drink during this time. Either partner drinking heavily can make it more difficult to conceive. During early pregnancy, the safest approach is to abstain from alcohol and after the first trimester keep within the recommended amounts if you do decide to have an alcoholic drink. The same applies for women who decide to breastfeed.'

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