One drink a day shortens your life

Ah, alcohol.

Some people don’t touch it for religious reasons.

Some people drink in moderation.

Some to excess.

Alcoholic drinks are classified by how many units of alcohol they contain. A recent study suggested that drinkers who consumed over 12.5 units (100g) of alcohol were more likely to die sooner than those who did not breach this amount.

If we follow current UK guidelines, this means that we should not drink more than 6 pints of average strength beer at 4%, or these might have serious repercussions for our health.

6 pints! Some people exceed that in a single day or two!

The limits established by the UK seem lower compared to those in the other countries, but nevertheless, each country sets its own guidelines based on lifestyle and economic factors.

The crux of this research was that adults over the age of 40 would lose between one or two years of their life is they exceeded the UK guidelines.

The somewhat irony of this research was that drinking alcohol was linked with higher incidences of cardiovascular symptoms, except for heart attacks, where it was lower.

How can these be so? How can drinking lead you to develop health problems, yet not cause you heart attacks?

This is where the “blind spot” of the research falls. It may not just be the drinking that is difficult to measure empirically.

You may argue that is not so much the level of alcohol that is the problem, but the lifestyle factors associated with the level of alcohol.

For example, those who exceed the UK threshold for alcohol consumption regularly may have lifestyle concerns or health worries that cause stress on the heart. Think of someone who is depressed and drowning himelf in sorrows. It is not necessarily the alcohol that he keeps swigging down, but more the stress that the depression is taking on him.

You may also argue that those who don’t exceed this limit have less stressful lifestyles. Or perhaps they have other outlets for stress, such as sport and exercise, and hence do not feel the need to drink as much.

It is like analysing football fans. You might find that the ardent supporters are more likely to have suffered the stresses, the highs and lows of their football team. They are also likelier to be older fans. Those who have not followed football teams as passionately or for as long are likely to be younger individuals. But you cannot say the number of football games watched cuts your life expectancy.

Why do drinking limits differ from place to place? I mentioned earlier that in some countries, this is due to economic interference. But how is this so? Imagine a country like, say, Spain, which produces various kinds of wines. As a higher percentage of the country’s economy depends on sales of alcohol, it is likely that Spain will have higher recommended guidelines. And Spain does. While UK men are told not to drink above 14 units of alcohol, this limit is 35 units in Spain. A staggering 2.5 times higher than in Britain!

The UK limit is also lower than Ireland (21.2). What does Ireland export? Guinness. It has been calculated that every day 10 million glasses of Guinness are sold all across the world and 1.8 billion points of Guinness are sold.

It is difficult to measure the health effect beyond the recommended threshold because it would be unethical to make someoe drink above that limit for a long time. But the results of the study suggest that consumption for many people is best reduced and monitored.