Regularly drinking more alcohol than the recommended amount could take years off your life, according to new research from the University of Cambridge.
The study shows that drinking more alcohol is associated with a higher risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death.
The authors say their findings challenge the widely held belief that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health.
The study compared the health and drinking habits of over 600,000 people in 19 countries worldwide and controlled for age, smoking, history of diabetes, level of education and occupation.
The upper safe limit of drinking was about five drinks per week (100g of pure alcohol, 12.5 units or just over five pints of four per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) beer or five 175ml glasses of 13 per cent ABV wine).
However, drinking above this limit was linked with lower life expectancy. For example, having 10 or more drinks per week was linked with one to two years shorter life expectancy. Having 18 drinks or more per week was linked with four to five years shorter life expectancy.
The researchers also looked at the association between alcohol consumption and different types of cardiovascular disease.
Alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysms, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure, and there were no clear thresholds where drinking less did not have a benefit.
By contrast, alcohol consumption was associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.
The authors stress that the lower risk of non-fatal heart attack must be considered in the context of the increased risk of several other serious and often fatal cardiovascular diseases.
“If you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions,” explained the study’s lead author Dr Angela Wood.
“Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases.”
Read the full study.
How much alcohol do you drink per week? Have you cut down recently to look after your health?