How much alcohol is healthy for me?

No amount of alcohol is healthy if you’re under 40, largely due to alcohol-related deaths from car crashes, injuries and homicides, according to a new global study.

If you’re 40 or older with no underlying health conditions, however, new research has found that small amounts of alcohol may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.

« These diseases happen to be leading causes of death in much of the world, » said lead author Emmanuela Gakidou, professor of health sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the medical school. from the University of Washington.

« So when you look at the cumulative impact on health, especially in older people, it shows that a small amount is actually better for you than not drinking. For all other causes, it’s harmful. at all levels of consumption.

Indeed, the study found no protective effect for diseases such as tuberculosis, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, liver disease, epilepsy, pancreatitis and many cancers.

« Alcohol guidelines, both global and national, have generally emphasized the difference between the level of consumption of men and women, » Gakidou said. « What our work suggests is that global guidelines, national guidelines and local guidelines would be more effective if they focused on age rather than gender. »

The findings underscore « the importance of alcohol recommendations tailored to specific regions and populations, » Amanda Berger, vice president of science and health for the United States Distilled Spirits Council trade group, told CNN. in an email.

« It’s important to note that no one should drink alcohol to get potential health benefits, and some people shouldn’t drink at all. »


The report, published Thursday in the Lancet journal, is the first to report alcohol risk by global geographic region, age, sex and year, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which prepared the study.

The analysis looked at 30 years of data on people aged 15 to 95 in 204 countries and territories collected by the institute’s Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors study, which tracks premature deaths and disability due to more than 300 illnesses.

The analysis estimated that 1.34 billion people worldwide consumed harmful amounts of alcohol in 2020. More than 59% of people who drank dangerous amounts of alcohol were between the ages of 15 and 39. More than two-thirds were men.

In each geographic region, the study found that alcohol consumption provides no health benefits for people under 40, but increases the risk of injuries, such as traffic accidents, suicides and the homicides.

The study defined a standard drink as 10 grams of pure alcohol, which could be a small 3.4 fluid ounce (100 milliliter) glass of red wine, a standard 12 fluid ounce (355 milliliter) can, or a bottle. of beer (3.5% alcohol) or a 1 fluid ounce shot of spirits (30 milliliters) containing 40% alcohol by volume.


While praising the analysis as well-conducted, some experts not involved in the research expressed concern about the study’s findings.

Statistics show that there are « more than 14 times more alcohol-attributable deaths in the UK among 70-74 year olds than among 20-24 year olds », said Colin Angus, senior researcher at Sheffield Alcohol UK University Research Group. of Sheffield, in a statement. The data « contradicts the assertion of this new study that we should focus on the alcohol consumption of younger age groups, » Angus said.

« The elephant in the room with this study is the interpretation of risk based on cardiovascular disease outcomes – particularly in the elderly, » said Dr. Tony Rao, visiting clinical researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience from King’s College. London.

« We know that any supposed health benefits of alcohol on the heart and circulation are outweighed by the increased risk of other conditions such as cancer, liver disease and mental disorders such as depression and dementia, » Rao said in a statement.

A study published in March found that just one pint of beer or glass of wine a day can reduce overall brain volume, with damage increasing as the number of daily drinks increases. On average, 50-year-olds who drank a pint of beer or a 6-ounce glass of wine a day in the past month had brains that looked two years older than those who drank just one. half beer.

Research in the United States has shown that alcohol consumption among adults has increased during the pandemic, especially among women, with « a 41% increase in heavy drinking days », said Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Substance Use Disorders Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an earlier CNN interview.

A study published in June found that many moderate drinkers over the age of 30 binge on weekends – defined as five or more drinks in a row or over a short period of time. Drinking an average of more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men – or five or more drinks on one occasion – was linked to alcohol problems nine years later.

Women are especially susceptible to the effects of alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAA. Alcohol-related problems appear earlier and at lower levels of consumption than in men, he said.

Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related brain damage and heart disease than men, and studies show that women who drink one drink a day increase their risk of breast cancer by 5-9% compared to those who abstain.

« The recommendation that people under 40 shouldn’t drink at all is totally unrealistic, » said Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, an industry-funded group that regulates the marketing of alcohol in the UK. , in an email.

Gakidou, the lead author of the study, admitted that « it is unrealistic to think that young adults will stop drinking. Nevertheless, we believe it is important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health.

For people over 65, any increase in alcohol consumption is concerning, as many older people « use medications that can interact with alcohol, have health problems that can be exacerbated by alcohol and may be more susceptible to alcohol-related falls and other accidental injuries,” the NIAA said.

“There is a high threshold to be able to say that alcohol is an effective prevention therapy, and the studies so far do not reach that threshold. If that were the case, you can be sure that the industry drinks would apply to the FDA for a license,” said Dr Nick Sheron, a professor in the department of hepatology at the University of Southampton in the UK.


The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation last released a report on alcohol four years ago when it analyzed 2016 data on the global burden of disease among people aged 15-49, concluding that no amount of alcohol, wine or beer was safe for overall health.

« What we’ve done in this new study is a more detailed and nuanced analysis of 21 different regions of the world, » Gakidou said. « What we’ve been able to do now is break it down: Who is alcohol harmful to? Who is alcohol beneficial to? That’s why the message is different, but it’s actually consistent with what we said before.

« If you ask me, ‘Will the message be different in 10 years?’ Maybe. It’s likely that new evidence will come out, » she said. « It might change the way we think. »


Back to top button