New scientific study: no safe level of alcohol

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A new scientific study concludes there is no safe level of drinking alcohol.

The study, published today in the international medical journal The Lancet, shows that in 2016, nearly 3 million deaths globally were attributed to use, including 12 percent of deaths in males between the ages of 15 and 49.

"The health risks associated with alcohol are massive," said Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and the senior author of the study. "Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. Zero minimizes the overall risk of health loss."

The study does not distinguish between beer, wine, and liquor due to a lack of evidence when estimating the disease burden, Gakidou said.

However, researchers used data on all alcohol-related deaths generally and related health outcomes to determine their conclusions.

Alcohol use patterns vary widely by country and by sex, the average consumption per drinker, and the attributable disease burden. Globally, more than 2 billion people were current drinkers in 2016; 63% were male.

"Average consumption" refers to a standard drink, defined in the study as 10 grams of pure alcohol, consumed by a person daily, about the equivalent of:

  • A small glass of red wine (100 ml or 3.4 fluid ounces) at 13% alcohol by volume;
  • A can or bottle of beer (375 ml or 12 fluid ounces) at 3.5% alcohol by volume; or
  • A shot of whiskey or other spirits (30 ml or 1.0 fluid ounces) at 40% alcohol by volume.

"Standard drinks" are different by country. For example, in the UK a standard drink is 8 grams of alcohol, whereas in Australia, the US, and Japan, it is 10 grams, 14 grams, and 20 grams, respectively.

The study, part of the annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD), assesses alcohol-related health outcomes and patterns between 1990 and 2016 for 195 countries and territories and by age and sex.

It provides findings on prevalence of current drinking, prevalence of abstention, alcohol consumption among current drinkers, and deaths and overall poor health attributable to alcohol for 23 health outcomes, such as communicable and non-communicable diseases and injuries, including:

  • Cardiovascular diseases: atrial fibrillation and flutter, hemorrhagic stroke, ischemic stroke, hypertensive heart disease, ischemic heart disease, and alcoholic cardiomyopathy;
  • Cancers: breast, colorectal, liver, esophageal, larynx, lip and oral cavity, and nasal;
  • Other non-communicable diseases: cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol use, diabetes, epilepsy, pancreatitis, and ;
  • Communicable diseases: lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis;
  • Intentional injuries: interpersonal violence and self-harm;
  • Unintentional injuries: exposure to mechanical forces; poisonings; fire, heat, and hot substances; drowning; and other unintentional injuries; and
  • Transportation-related injuries.

"We now understand that alcohol is one of the major causes of death in the world today," said Lancet Editor Richard Horton. "We need to act now. We need to act urgently to prevent these millions of deaths. And we can."

This study used 694 data sources on individual and population-level alcohol consumption, along with 592 prospective and retrospective studies on the risk of alcohol use. More than 500 GBD collaborators, such as researchers, academics, and others from more than 40 nations contributed to the study, according to Max Griswold, senior researcher and lead author.

"With the largest collected evidence base to date, our study makes the relationship between health and alcohol clear—drinking causes substantial health loss, in myriad ways, all over the world," Griswold said.

In 2016, eight of the leading 10 countries with lowest death rates attributable to alcohol use among 15- to 49-year-olds were in the Middle East: Kuwait, Iran, Palestine, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria. The other two were Maldives and Singapore.

Conversely, seven of the leading 10 countries with highest death rates were in the Baltic, Eastern European, or Central Asian regions, specifically Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Mongolia, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. The other three were Lesotho, Burundi, and Central African Republic.

Health officials in those nations, Gakidou said, would be well served by examining the study's findings to inform their policies and programs to improve the and well-being of their constituents.

"There is a compelling and urgent need to overhaul policies to encourage either lowering people's levels of alcohol consumption or abstaining entirely," she said. "The myth that one or two drinks a day are good for you is just that—a myth. This study shatters that myth."


Explore further

Experts urge review of alcohol consumption guidelines

More information: Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. 23 Aug 2018. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2
Journal information: The Lancet

Citation: New scientific study: no safe level of alcohol (2018, August 24) retrieved 21 September 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-08-scientific-safe-alcohol.html
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Aug 24, 2018
I must say it's rather annoying reading scientific articles stating that data yields conclusive evidence in support of a particular theorom, and the following day reading a different researcher claiming the exact opposite.

One day I hear that alcohol consumption in the right dosage is beneficial for humans then the next day I hear that alcohol in any amount is maleficial. Both base their conclusions on what they claim to be incontrovertible evidence, and this continues ad nauseam.

It really brings into question how reliable science is, its rather obvious that bias is hard to remove from the human psyche.

How do you take something like this seriously and incorporate it into your life?

Some of the all time oldest living humans when interviewed have said that they drank alcohol in small amounts almost daily.

...Are egg yolks safe to eat?

Aug 24, 2018
@Kron

Let me break it down. First of all, all the science news sites are driven by money (to the nay of the viewer). That just refers to what stories they choose. Secondly, the author of the chosen articles almost always misinterprets, embellishes or in some way makes non-scientific interpretations or shows complete wanton disregard for if not the evidence itself (scientific article) than it's conclusion. Secondly, once again money drives the world which in itself is a bias, and scientists have their own biases and between these two they want to be "right as much as the evidence can support though not necessarily conclude" Just another way of saying conclusions by scientists are often worthless. Finally, because of ego, wanting to be right or wanting a particular conclusion, most scientist now days end up poisoning the scientific method and there is no governing body to either outright prevent publishing or demote willywonky scientists' reputation. Conclusion follows.

Aug 24, 2018
So basically money and people are the reason. People not enforcing high standards of themselves or others and money just royally fuc~ing up the entire scientific scene. Einstein would be appalled. There is a lot of bad data (research) to sift through now days. Science is fact; there is no problem with scientist only with people and society.

Aug 24, 2018
"A new scientific study concludes there is no safe level of drinking alcohol."
Well, Duh. Consuming poison = Consuming poison.
Alcohol is a poison and cannot be made non-poisonous.
It is a Toxin. Hence the term "inTOXicated".

mqr
Aug 24, 2018
100.000 people die of alcohol overdose every year in the USA alone.

The problem is that industries as noted above. During the XX century the very rich learned to pay for studies to say what is convenient for their business to prosper or to maintain the status quo. So the alcohol industry is paying for studies, it has been published in the New York Times recently. Same with the sugar industry that paid for ''scientists'' to say that sugar was not the cause of obesity, that it was fat. There is no ''fat industry'' paying for studies saying that fat is good for people.

That is why to know the truth is very difficult. One can not naively assumed that scientists or universities are telling the truth. One must mixed studies with our own observations to find the truth nowadays.

For example, alcohol has been associated with promiscuity, with sexual infections, with violence, with car accidents, etc. If you had used alcohol you might suspect that those claims are true.

Aug 24, 2018
@mqr: So what are you saying? Just what industry, do you believe, would be paying for this study, for it's own benefit? The water industry????

Dug
Aug 24, 2018
This is more of a meta-analysis - a statistical analysis of existing date from many different sources and different types of studies - that may or may not have been scientific, so this study does not constitute a classic experimentally proven "scientific study." Nor does it disprove that under certain circumstances that red wine (Resveratrol and the French Paradox for example.) for instance is not beneficial to ones health if limited to small amount.

That said, it also doesn't change the facts of mortality or disease from alcohol - abuse.

Aug 25, 2018
This study is meaningless. The average human metabolises ~ 3 grams [0.375 units in the UK] of ethanol every day. See Ethanol metabolism From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The body also has ways of removing ethanol through oxidation to acetic acid which is removed in urine. So that is a SAFE level and as there is a way of removal of ethanol then the safe level will be greater than 3 grams per day.

KBK
Aug 25, 2018
There is no war on alcohol for the same reason the war on drugs is going away. Prohibition proved exactly squat, except for being aa nice bit of fodder in psychological study material.

Prohibitions can't be enforced and it can't really be effective. Prohibitions work best in totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. In open societies, the record shows otherwise.

In the same way that capital punishment as a deterrence factor in murder --- is NIL. It has minimal effect in the Totalitarian regimes. (within the context of a functional social fabric, that is; nothing is simple, here)

People will do as people will do.


Aug 25, 2018
Is anything safe? People have died from over-consumption of water. Oxygen can be very harmful. Just being alive is dangerous to your health and always leads to death. Meh.

Aug 25, 2018
Why not read the study or just the abstract? This GBD study analyzed results from thousands of primary researchers performed by hundreds of scientists so the probability that the results being overly skewed in one way or another is remote.

"This study used 694 data sources on individual and population-level alcohol consumption, along with 592 prospective and retrospective studies on the risk of alcohol use."

Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data and tools for visualization are freely available to the world:
http://www.health...izations

Aug 25, 2018
This GBD study analyzed results from thousands of primary researchers performed by hundreds of scientists so the probability that the results being overly skewed in one way or another is remote.


Adding up thousands of weak studies doesn't constitute one strong study, especially when the topic is politicized between people who push for government control (to gain power), and others who push for selling more alcohol.

Most of all, studies like these have the problem that if you cast your net wide enough, you're bound to catch sometihing. So alcohol causes this problem here, and that problem there, but not the same problem in both - so can we predict alcohol causes this or that problem somewhere else to some other people?

Either way, you include both cases in the same study and say: "Look, we found problems correlating with alcohol here and there, so we conclude alcohol is harmful everywhere for everyone".

https://imgs.xkcd...cant.png

Aug 25, 2018
Heck, they keep coming up with some "cellphones/wifi/power lines cause cancer!" scare study every year like a clockwork, and they can't seem to be able to put a lid on that topic despite there being no reason for the effect to exist and no strong data to support the hypothesis anyhow. Once people have decided that something is dangerous, they will keep pushing the point to the point of delusion.

So in a topic like ethanol consumption where there actually are real dangers, trying to find the real signal out of that noise is virtually impossible. At the levels of consumption where the real effects reduce to zero, you'll still get positive results because of other reasons, such as poverty being the reason to your drinking and your ill health, or people moralizing your drinking and telling you you're going to die of it (nocebo effect) which then leads to poor life choices.

Kinda like how the absolute biggest killer in the Chernobyl accident was suicides.

Aug 25, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Aug 27, 2018
Anonym518498 says an alcoholic.

Aug 27, 2018
@eric96 "Let me break it down. First of all, all the science news sites are driven by money (to the nay of the viewer)." Liquor companies are driven by money, too. I bet liquor companies do everything they can to influence science news sites not to post any articles like this one.

But more to the point, the stats in this article seem pretty accurate. If anything, they are probably under-reporting many alcohol-related accidents, injuries, and health problems.

Aug 27, 2018
@Claudius "Is anything safe? People have died from over-consumption of water. Oxygen can be very harmful. Just being alive is dangerous to your health and always leads to death. Meh."

Wow that is sophistry of the highest order. Is your next post going to be about stealing from the bank is just a form of withdrawal?

Aug 27, 2018
@Eikka " if you cast your net wide enough, you're bound to catch sometihing." That's addressed by tekram's point " the probability that the results being overly skewed in one way or another is remote." So unless you can point out some error in the study's methodology and/or study selection, no you're not just bound to catch something, if by something you mean anything.

Or put it another way - get the studies used in this meta-study and publish a comparable paper proving that alcohol is healthy and extends the lifespan.

Aug 28, 2018
@Claudius "Is anything safe? People have died from over-consumption of water. Oxygen can be very harmful. Just being alive is dangerous to your health and always leads to death. Meh."

Wow that is sophistry


Nothing I said was inaccurate or deceptive. So your use of the term sophistry is inappropriate.

p.s. The Mayo Clinic is still maintaining that moderate use of alcohol reduces your risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Moderation in all things is still good advice.

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