Up to one or two drinks a day may lead to a longer life, based on a recent study that links moderate alcohol consumption to reduced risk of death.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study explored the controversial issue of alcohol consumption and its impact on health.
Currently, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and American Heart Association recommend light to moderate alcohol consumption for heart disease prevention. That’s because studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption to better heart health and reduced risk of death.
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
However, many cancer prevention guidelines discourage drinking and recommend cutting it out completely, if possible. That’s due to research linking regular drinking to increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer.
To help provide some clarity, researchers analyzed data from U.S. health surveys to explore the impact of drinking on risk of both heart and cancer-related death. The study included more than 333,000 U.S. adults who provided information about their diet and alcohol consumption between 1997 and 2009.
Based on national death records, just over 10% of participants died during an 8-year follow-up period. About one-fourth of those deaths were from cancer and one-fourth were heart-related.
Similar to past findings, light to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with 26% lower risk of heart-related death and 21% lower risk of death from all causes. Light to moderate drinking also appeared to have a small protective effect against cancer-related death, although findings were not considered statistically significant.
Researchers also found that heavy and binge drinkers had up to 13% greater risk of death and up to 27% greater risk of cancer-related death. In this study, heavy drinking was defined as having more than 7 drinks a week for women and more than 14 drinks a week for men. Binge drinking was defined as having 5 or more drinks in one day.
The take-home message, according to authors, is that moderate alcohol consumption helps reduce mortality risk. Unlike habits like smoking, there does appear to be a safe amount of alcohol intake when it comes to health. As experts emphasize, that limit is up to 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 drinks a day for men.
When it comes to cancer risk, experts note that the increased risk from drinking is often small and pertains to specific types of cancer. Thus, cutting out drinking completely should be considered on a case-by-case basis depending on individual health risks.
Authors also note that non-drinkers should not start drinking for health reasons only and that drinking beyond current guidelines can have serious negative effects on health and risk of death.