A landmark analysis of more than half a million drinkers from 19 countries suggests that, to lower your risk of premature death from any cause, alcohol consumption should be capped at 100g per week.
"Overall, for a 40-year-old man, the estimated reduction in life expectancy is almost five years for alcohol consumption of more than 350g per week, for a 40-year-old woman it is around four years, compared to consumption of less than 100g per week".
But the new findings, published on Friday in The Lancet, significantly undermine that claim.
"The take home message is this: less is probably better".
"The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions", says Dr Angela Wood, lead author at the University of Cambridge.
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"This study completely overlooks the well-documented health benefits light to moderate enjoyment of alcohol brings", said James Calder, head of communications for the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).
"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold".
The UK recommends people do not drink more than 14 units a week - or around 6 pints of beer or glasses of wine - giving it one of the strictest set of guidelines in the world.
"These data support adoption of lower limits of alcohol consumption than are recommended in most current guidelines", the report added.
Compared to a person who downs less than 100g alcohol/week, a 40-year-old who consumed between 100-200g is likely to cut their life expectancy by six months.
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"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".
"Although non-fatal heart attacks are less likely in people who drink, this benefit is swamped by the increased risk of other forms of heart disease including fatal heart attacks and stroke".
The findings support recently lowered guidelines in the United Kingdom, which recommend that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units or 112g of pure alcohol in a week. It's also observational - it doesn't directly prove alcohol consumption increases the risk of early death.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) says it is is reviewing the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009.
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