Communications and Marketing

Alcohol: redefined upper limit for low-risk consumption

No. 25c | 13/04/2018 | by Koh

Consuming regularly more than 100 grams of alcohol per week shortens life, according to the results of an international research consortium published in the latest issue of the journal "Lancet". Those who consistently consume more than two liters of beer or a bottle of wine per week risk more strokes, deadly aneurysms and heart failure, and a higher overall mortality.

© Gina Sanders, Fotolia

The study, led by Angela M Wood and John Danesh, Cambridge University, compared the drinking habits of 600,000 people from 19 countries worldwide. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center were also involved in the project. The data came from 83 prospective studies that included participants between 1964 and 2014. The evaluation took into account age, tobacco consumption, education level and occupation.

The limit, above which the total mortality increased significantly, was 100 grams of pure alcohol per week. This corresponds to about two liters of beer or nearly a 0.75 l bottle of white wine. With increasing alcohol consumption, the mortality risk increases: An alcohol consumption of more than 200 g per week shortens the life expectancy by one to two years, a consumption of over 350 g per week even up to five years. Surprisingly, the scientists found no significant differences between men and women in alcohol-related mortality.

Increased alcohol consumption increased the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysms and heart failure, fatal hypertension, and total mortality. However, in this study the researchers also observed the well-known phenomenon that at moderate alcohol consumption fewer heart attacks occurred. But overall, the findings challenge the widespread assumption that moderate drinking has a beneficial effect on the mortality rate of cardiovascular diseases.

"At the moment, the recommendations on low-risk alcohol consumption within Western countries vary considerably," says Rudolf Kaaks from the German Cancer Research Center. "It would be sensible to strive for unification worldwide here. The current study provides a good basis for this."

Currently, the German Society of Nutrition (DGE) defines a maximum limit of 140 g per week for men and 70 g for women as a health-safe upper limit. In the US, on the other hand, 196 g per week is the upper limit, while the British advise men and women not to consume more than 140 g of alcohol per week.

Rudolf Kaaks would like to dispel a common misunderstanding. "The upper limit is not a goal that should be aimed at with personal drinking behavior. It should by no means be misunderstood as a recommendation to consume this amount of alcohol weekly."

Angela M Wood et al: Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data on 599,912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies. The Lancet 2018, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

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