Study Finds That Drinking More Than 3 Times a Week Could Raise the Risk of Early Death

Of all the bad-for-your-health habits that people indulge in, alcohol consumption is under the microscope again for its long-term effects. A recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research examines early mortality rates for people who drink.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine compiled information from over 430,000 adults. There were 340,688 adult subjects ages 18 to 85 from the National Health Survey and the remainder were patients at US Veterans Administration clinics.

VA participants fell between the ages of 40 and 60 with the majority of them being male. Health, habits, and survival for all patients were tracked for a period of seven to ten years.

The biggest takeaway was that for those who consumed more than three drinks per week, their risk of early death increased by 20%. Age had no bearing on risk.

According to lead researcher Dr. Sarah M. Hartz, their findings suggest that the risk of cancer death was significantly increased:

“It used to seem like having one or two drinks per day was no big deal, and there even have been some studies suggesting it can improve health. But now we know that even the lightest daily drinkers have an increased mortality risk.

Consuming one or two drinks about four days per week seemed to protect against cardiovascular disease, but drinking every day eliminated those benefits. With regard to cancer risk, any drinking at all was detrimental.”

It runs counter to the advice that a glass of red wine a day is beneficial and moderate drinking is okay. The American Heart Association considers moderate drinking to be one to two drinks daily for men and one for women. Although the AHA acknowledges that there may be some health protections offered in grape skin (from wine), the group also acknowledges that individual health issues play a role.

While there has been some back-and-forth over the past few decades about what constitutes too much alcohol and the long-term health problems of drinking, this study focused specifically on light drinking and premature death.

Dr. Hartz emphasized that the 20% increase is more significant for an older adult than someone way younger (like in their 20s), but those who have a personal or family history of cancer should also be careful. Since this study was geared towards the general population, it is important that individuals discuss their habits and medical issues with their physician.

Dr. Hartz stated that those who have heart-related health concerns may be given different advice on alcohol consumption versus those who are diabetic, obese, or have a history of cancer.

Although this study serves as a warning, it deviates from one published this past summer in The Lancet which expressed that all alcohol consumption is bad for you. What makes a difference to doctors is what you drink, how much, and how often.

What are your thoughts on this latest study? Will it make you curb your drinking habits when it comes to red wine or other alcoholic beverages? Why or why not?


American Heart Association

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