Rethinking the Health Benefits of Alcohol
Moderate drinking may not be a health boon after all—and men may be better off with the same alcohol limits recommended for women. Results of a large international study, published in 2018 in The Lancet, challenge some long-held notions about alcohol and health. It found that overall, the standard definition of moderate drinking—one to two drinks per day—was linked to increased risk of certain cardiovascular diseases, including stroke. And people who had more than one drink per day had a somewhat shortened life expectancy.
The findings come from an analysis of 83 studies in 19 countries, including nearly 600,000 current drinkers. Over 7.5 years, 40,310 study participants died. The risk was lowest among people who drank less than 100 grams of alcohol each week—or about one standard drink per day. Under U.S. guidelines, that's the limit recommended for women, while men are advised to have no more than two drinks per day.
As for the storied cardiovascular benefits of alcohol, the study found that the more people drank—even at moderate levels—the higher their risks of stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular ills. The one exception was heart attack risk, which declined. But on balance, that potential benefit did not seem worthwhile given the adverse effects of alcohol consumption on other areas of health, particularly cancers. The researchers estimate that if middle-aged men reduced their intake from two drinks per day to just one, they could add one or two years to their life expectancy.
The bottom line: If you have more than one drink per day, consider cutting down.