Study: Drink up, but only 1 a day for a longer life

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Mike Stobbe

NEW YORK — Here’s some sober­ing news: A large in­ter­na­tional study says adults should av­er­age no more than one al­co­holic drink per day, and that means drink­ing guide­lines in many coun­tries may be far too loose.

The study found that peo­ple who down more than seven drinks a week can ex­pect to die sooner than those who drink less.

“What this is say­ing is, if you’re re­ally con­cerned about your longevity, don’t have more than a drink a day,” said David Jerni­gan, a Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity al­co­hol re­searcher who was not in­volved in the study.

While the U.S. gov­ern­ment rec­om­mends no more than seven drinks a week for women, the rec­om­men­da­tion for men is 14 drinks.

That’s be­cause ear­lier stud­ies found women are hit by the ef­fects of al­co­hol at lower amounts than men for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing women weigh less than men on av­er­age and blood al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tions rise faster.

The new study es­ti­mates that 40-year-old men who drink as much as the cur­rent U.S. guide­lines al­low can ex­pect to live one to two years fewer than men who have no more than seven drinks per week.

Canada and Swe­den have guide­lines sim­i­lar to those in the U.S. set by the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. Some coun­tries have much higher ceil­ings. Spain and Ro­ma­nia set the up­per limit for men at the equiv­a­lent of 20 drinks each week, for ex­am­ple.

Bri­tish guide­lines were like the U.S. stan­dards un­til two years ago, when U.K. health of­fi­cials brought the rec­om­men­da­tion for men down to the level for women.

The study “is a se­ri­ous wake-up call for many coun­tries,” Jeremy Pear­son of the Bri­tish Heart Foun­da­tion said in a state­ment. The group partly funded the study, which was pub­lished last week by the Lancet jour­nal.

The re­search com­bined re­sults from 83 stud­ies con­ducted in 19 coun­tries, track­ing nearly 600,000 peo­ple who drank al­co­hol. The re­searchers fo­cused on who de­vel­oped — and died from — stroke and dif­fer­ent forms of heart dis­ease. They made a point of ex­clud­ing peo­ple who had a known his­tory of heart prob­lems at the time they had en­tered a study.

About half the par­tic­i­pants said they had more than 100 grams of al­co­hol a week. There’s vari­a­tion from coun­try to coun­try as to how many grams of al­co­hol are gen­er­ally found in a stan­dard drink. In Bri­tain, that’s about six pints of beer a week. But in the U.S., 100 grams is equiv­a­lent to what’s in seven 12-ounce cans of beer, 5ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other dis­tilled spir­its.

The re­searchers found a higher risk of stroke, heart fail­ure and other prob­lems in that group of heav­ier drinkers. That may partly re­flect that al­co­hol can el­e­vate blood pres­sure and al­ter choles­terol lev­els, the re­searchers said.

No­tably, the heav­ier drinkers were less likely to have a heart attack. But bal­anced against the in­creased risk of a stroke and other heart prob­lems, the im­pact of drink­ing more than seven drinks a week is more bad than good, said the study’s lead author, Dr. An­gela Wood of the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge in Eng­land.

Like most stud­ies, this one has flaws. It’s not built to make firm con­clu­sions about cause and ef­fect. Re­search that rolls to­gether pre­vi­ous stud­ies can be prob­lem­atic if they aren’t sim­i­lar enough, though this one ap­pears to have done a good job at over­com­ing that ob­sta­cle and com­bin­ing com­pa­ra­ble data, Jerni­gan said.

Re­searchers re­lied on what par­tic­i­pants re­ported drink­ing at the start, rec­og­niz­ing that many peo­ple may be low­balling how much they ac­tu­ally down. And the study didn’t ac­count for any changes in their drink­ing habits.

At O’Hara’s Restau­rant and Pub, a wa­ter­ing hole in lower Man­hat­tan, one pa­tron shrugged off the study and its rec­om­men­da­tion. Shawn Free­man, vis­it­ing from St. Louis, said other things in­flu­ence how much he drinks, like his mood and whether he’ll be driv­ing.

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