Alcohol guidelines in many countries may not be safe, suggests study

The recommended alcohol limit in Italy and Spain is almost 50 per cent higher than in the UK

The researchers found that normal mice and mice genetically unable to produce FGF21 drank similar amounts of water when given the typical chow diet.

Recommended limits for safe alcohol consumption are too high in many developed countries and should be lowered to save lives, a study suggested today.

New Zealand's Ministry of Health guidelines recommend that men drink no more than three standard units a day and no more than 15 standard units a week.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years lower life expectancy", said David Spiegelhalter, a risk expert at Britain's University of Cambridge who was not involved in the study.

The researchers found that the more alcohol a person consumed, the higher their risk of stroke and heart failure.

The US government now recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, but twice that amount for men.

"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target and try to drink well below this threshold".

"Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are almost 50 percent higher than this, and in the United States of America, the upper limit for men is nearly double", the researchers found. "The lowest mortality we observed was in people who drank less than 10 standard drinks of alcohol a week", says Professor Bu Yeap, a health researcher at the University of WA and among the more than 100 global academics who co-authored the study.

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Drinking alcohol was linked with a lower risk of non-fatal heart disease, but scientists said this benefit was "swamped" by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease.

The team found no evidence supporting a lower alcohol limit for women than for men.

The study's authors note it has several limitations, primarily that it relies on self-reported data about alcohol consumption.

"These recommended drinking levels will no doubt be described as implausible and impracticable by the alcohol industry and other opponents of public health warnings on alcohol".

Several Australian studies were part of this collaboration, contributing to the research and making the findings relevant to Australians.

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: "This study reinforces the importance of the Chief Medical Officer's guidelines on lower risk drinking updated in 2016". So the researchers, led by Cambridge University's Dr. Angela Wood, used only information about people who were current drinkers "because ex-drinkers include people who might have abstained from alcohol owing to poor health itself, as well as those who have changed their habits to achieve a healthier lifestyle", they wrote. Alcohol causes more than 60 different health problems including the cardiovascular diseases covered by this study.

"Until then, the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines remain NHMRC's current advice".

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