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.

6 Responses to “New study says drinking every day can take years off your life, and the drinks industry is furious”

  1. Steve Myers says:

    It always amaze me that a generic statement like this never take into account the overall diet of consumers. Proper nutrition protects the body from the seven longterm adverse effects of alcohol. Healthcare professional should know this. SAM – Simple Alcohol Management

  2. Tabbers says:

    How on earth this ‘research’ saw the light of day is beyond me. According to other media outlets, the study was of 600000 people across 18 countries. While those who stated they consumed more alcohol, it doesn’t consider other lifestyle and healthcare situations. For example, life expectancy in Poland may be naturally lower than the UK while they drink more alcohol per person. This research is surely unable to distinguish how other dietary, lifestyle, healthcare and genetic issues contribute to the outcomes. Looking at drinking habits and comparing them to mortality rates surely leaves one with a null hypothesis with any observed difference due to experimental and sampling error.

  3. Yours Truly says:

    Im not here for a long time… I am here for a GOOD TIME!

  4. Norvell Nelson says:

    You might want to read the article first, Lancet 2018; 391: 1513–23. Lancet is a highly regarded scientific journal. The article is open sourced which mans that you can have access to the full article and not just third party opinions. Science is not always comfortable…from a wine drinker.

    The authors and their affiliation, quite an international group. You might want to take them seriously.

    Department of Public Health
    and Primary Care, University of
    Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
    (A M Wood PhD, S Kaptoge PhD,
    A S Butterworth PhD,
    P Willeit MD, S Warnakula PhD,
    T Bolton MMath, D S Paul PhD,
    M Sweeting PhD, S Burgess PhD,
    S Bell PhD, W Astle PhD,
    D Stevens MSc,
    Prof S G Thompson FMedSci,
    E Di Angelantonio MD,
    Prof J Danesh FMedSci); Medical
    University Innsbruck,
    Innsbruck, Austria (P Willeit,
    Prof S Kiechl MD); National
    Centre for Epidemiology and
    Population Health, Australian
    National University, Canberra,
    Australia (E Paige PhD,
    Prof E Banks PhD); MRC
    Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge
    Institute of Public Health,
    University of Cambridge,
    Cambridge, UK (S Burgess);
    NIHR BRC Nutritional
    Biomarker Laboratory,
    University of Cambridge,
    Cambridge, UK
    (A Koulman PhD); Norwegian
    Institute of Public Health, Oslo,
    Norway (R M Selmer PhD);
    National Institute for Public
    Health and the Environment,
    Bilthoven, Netherlands
    (Prof W M M Verschuren PhD,
    J M A Boer PhD); Julius Centre for
    Health Sciences and Primary
    Care, University Medical Center
    Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands
    (Prof W M M Verschuren,
    Prof Y T van der Schouw PhD,
    Prof D E Grobbee MD); Chiba
    Prefectural Institute of Public
    Health, Chiba, Japan
    (Prof S Sato MD); Department of
    Community Medicine,
    University of Tromsø, Tromsø,
    Norway (Prof I Njølstad MD);
    Nuffield Department of
    Population Health, Medical
    Sciences Division, University of
    Oxford, Oxford, UK
    (Prof M Woodward PhD,
    Prof R Peto FRS, Prof T J Key DPhil,
    R C Travis DPhil); The George
    Institute for Global Health,
    University of Sydney, Sydney,
    NSW, Australia
    (Prof M Woodward); Bloomberg
    School of Public Health
    (Prof M Woodward) and School
    of Medicine (M Lazo MD), Johns
    Hopkins University, Baltimore,
    MD, USA; THL-National
    Institute for Health and Welfare,
    Helsinki, Finland
    (Prof V Salomaa MD);
    Copenhagen University
    Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark
    (Prof B G Nordestgaard MD);
    Department of Clinical
    Medicine, University of
    Copenhagen, Copenhagen,
    Denmark (Prof B G Nordestgaard,
    Prof A Linneberg MD); School of
    Medicine, University of Western
    Australia, Perth, WA, Australia
    (Prof B B Yeap MBBS); Fiona
    Stanley Hospital, Perth, WA,
    Australia (Prof B B Yeap); Harry
    Perkins Institute of Medical
    Research, Perth, WA, Australia
    (Prof B B Yeap); London School
    of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine,
    London, UK (Prof A Fletcher PhD,
    Prof D A Leon PhD); Department
    of Clinical Sciences, Malmö,
    Lund University, Malmö,
    Sweden (Prof O Melander MD);
    Graduate School of Public
    Health, University of
    Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    (Prof L H Kuller MD); CESP
    INSERM UMRS 1018, Villejuif
    Cedex, France (B Balkau PhD);
    Department of Epidemiology
    and Public Health, University
    College London, London, UK
    (Prof M Marmot FMedSci,
    Prof E J Brunner PhD,
    J A Cooper MSc); 92 Deutsches
    Herzzentrum München,
    Technische Universität
    München, Munich, Germany
    DZHK (German Centre for
    Cardiovascular Research),
    partner site Munich Heart
    Alliance, Munich, Germany
    (Prof W Koenig MD); University
    of Ulm Medical Center, Ulm,
    Germany (Prof W Koenig);
    Department of Medicine,
    University of Padua, Padua,
    Italy (Prof E Casiglia MD); MRC
    Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit,
    University of Southampton,
    Southampton, UK
    (Prof C Cooper FMedSci);
    German Cancer Research
    Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg,
    Germany (V Arndt MD,
    T Kühn PhD, Prof H Brenner MD,
    Prof R Kaaks MD); Erasmus
    University Medical Center
    Rotterdam, Rotterdam,
    Netherlands
    (Prof O H Franco MD,
    J D Schoufour PhD,
    T Voortman PhD); Department
    of Public Health and Clinical
    Medicine, Umeå University,
    Umeå, Sweden
    (P Wennberg MD,
    M Wennberg PhD); Department
    of Primary Care and Public
    Health, Cardiff University,
    Cardiff, UK
    (Prof J Gallacher PhD);
    12 de Octubre Research
    Institute, CIBERESP,
    Madrid, Spain
    (A Gómez de la Cámara MD);
    Institute for Community
    Medicine, University Medicine
    Greifswald, Greifswald,
    Germany (Prof H Völzke MD);
    Department of Public Health,
    Aarhus University, Aarhus,
    Denmark (C C Dahm PhD,
    Prof K Overvad MD); Farr
    Institute of Health Informatics
    Research, UCL Institute of
    Health Informatics, University
    College London, London, UK
    (C E Dale PhD); German
    Institute of Human Nutrition,
    Potsdam–Rehbrüke, Germany
    (M M Bergmann PhD,
    Prof H Boeing PhD); School of
    Community Health, Portland
    State University, Portland, OR,
    USA (C J Crespo PhD);
    St Vincent’s Clinical School,
    University of New South
    Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
    (L A Simons MD); Hellenic
    Health Foundation, Athens,
    Greece (P Lagiou MD,
    A Karakatsani MD,
    Prof A Trichopoulou MD);
    National and Kapodistrian
    University of Athens, Athens,
    Greece (P Lagiou, A Karakatsani,
    Prof A Trichopoulou); Harvard
    TH Chan School of Public

    • Tabbers says:

      Norvell, I’ve read the research and, while it takes into consideration diseases such as diabetes, it doesn’t compare like with like. Every country will have different attitudes to alcohol, diets, drinking patterns (e.g. binge drinking) and different medical outcomes based on complications arising from alcohol consumption. Looking at the data, it also concurs with studies that conclude that moderate drinking is actually better for you but, possibly because of the sponsors, they seem reluctant to release that as a headline. Everyone who consumes alcohol on a regular basis knows it causes long term damage but, like many other studies, this has obvious flaws by using too broad a sample with too many variables. I get lots of eminent academics have put there name to it but lots of people were involved so they’re hardly going to withdraw their name from the collection of data.

  5. George says:

    Drinking kills you. Who cares. So does everything else. If I wanted to live forever I would go on a calorie-restricted diet.

    Hands off my liquor cabinet!

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