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New study says drinking every day can take years off your life, and the drinks industry is furious

Industry leaders have hit out at new research which claims that drinking an extra glass of wine every day can take years off your life.

(Photo: Antonio Guillem/Istock)

The study, which looked at the alcohol consumption habits of 600,000 people, found that having between 10 and 15 drinks per week could cut a person’s lifespan by up to two years.

It also claimed that people who consume more than 18 per week could take five years off their lives.

NHS guidelines state that men and women should avoid more than 14 units a week on a regular basis — equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.

The paper, published in the Lancet medical journal, called for the UK government’s recommended intake guidelines to be lowered.

Five standard 175ml glasses of wine or five pints a week is the upper safe limit – about 100g of alcohol, or 12.5 units in total, according to the researchers.

Any more would considerably raise the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death.

“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life,” said professor David Spiegelhalter, at the University of Cambridge.

“This works out at about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette.”

Already under siege from a global decline in alcohol consumption, the UK’s drinks industry was unimpressed to say the least.

Colin Valentine, chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), called the public reaction to the study “inaccurate, misleading and sensational,” adding that his take on the results are actually indicative that alcohol is good for you in moderation.

“This study confirms what we have been saying for a long time: moderate consumption of alcohol is more beneficial than not drinking at all, and while heavy drinking of course carries risks to health, those risks only increase at a level of consumption far above the current UK consumption guidelines.

“In addition, studies have shown that enjoying alcohol responsibly in communal settings such as pubs brings drinkers many benefits to their wellbeing and mental health.

“We will continue to urge the government to provide the public with balanced and unbiased information about risks associated with drinking so that they can make their own informed decisions – as well as urge the media to report studies of this sort in a fair and accurate way, rather than potentially misleading people into believing any alcohol consumption is harmful.”

Meanwhile, the Society of Independent Brewers’ Association was equally incensed, also referencing a number of past studies which make a link between light drinking and mental wellbeing.

James Calder, Head of Communications at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) claimed the study “completely overlooks well documented health benefits light to moderate enjoyment of alcohol brings.”

“The incidence of Type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, haemorrhagic stroke, pancreatitis, osteoporosis, macular degeneration and gall bladder disease are just some of the conditions that are lower in sensible drinkers. The mental and social benefits of enjoying alcohol sensibly are also overlooked. We have 40 years of research, which shows light to moderate drinking equals improved cognitive function and memory in ageing as well as reduced chance of vascular dementia. What about the simple, social, improvements to quality of life that being in a pub or taproom with your friends and family regularly brings to our wellbeing?”

“The well known J shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality shows that with light to moderate consumption, your relative risk of total mortality drops significantly when compared to teetotallers.”

A spokesperson from Portman group argued that the UK’s guidelines on alcohol consumption “are already among the lowest in Europe and the vast majority of adults already drink at or below this level or choose not to drink alcohol. Rates of harmful drinking and binge drinking have been in decline for a decade so further changes would be unnecessary and entirely confusing for consumers.”

The battle between academics and drinks firms is nothing new. Last year, a report by UK academics has accused the drinks industry of “actively disseminating misinformation about alcohol and cancer risk, particularly breast cancer,” comparing it to the tobacco industry’s “denial, distortion and distraction tactics.”

What do you think about the new study? Let us know in the comments.

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