Worst News Ever: Why One Drink a Day Can Shorten Your Lifespan

New research indicates we might have to lower the daily guidelines for alcohol consumption.

Over the last few years, you've probably heard a lot about how moderate drinking (the keyword there being "moderate") can actually be good for you. There's plenty of science-backed research citing how the resveratrol and anti-oxidants in a glass of red wine can boost your heart health and even help you lose weight, as well as research saying a a few glasses of champagne per week can help stave off dementia and memory loss. People who live in Sardinia, where residents have some of the longest life spans in the world, credited a glass of wine per day with lunch as one of the many secrets to longevity. There was even a recent study that claimed drinking  two units of alcohol a day (which comes out to 12 oz for beer, 5 oz for wine, and 1.5 oz for spirits) can help remove waste from your brain and improve its health in your later years.

However, a UK study recently published in The Lancet now claims that having as little as 5 to 10 drinks per week can shorten your lifespan by 6 months. The more you drink, the bigger that number becomes. Researchers found that having 10 to 15 drinks per week can shorten a person's life by one or two years, and those who consume more than 18 drinks a week are at risk of losing as many as 4 or 5 years of their lives.

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed the data of almost 600,000 drinkers with an average age of 57 in 19 high-income countries. Participants had to have no history of cardiovascular disease in order to be part of the study, which took into account age, sex, smoking, and diabetes for their results.

Researchers found a "a positive and curvilinear association with the level of alcohol consumption, with the minimum mortality risk around or below 100 g per week." For every 12.5 units of alcohol people drank above the recommended UK guidelines of 14 unites per week, the risk of stroke increased by 14%, the risk of fatal hypertensive disease by 24%, heart failure by 9%, and fatal aortic aneurysm by 15%.

That means, if you really want to play it safe, you have to limit yourself to 100 grams of alcohol, which translates to about 6 glasses per week. That's less than the current threshold of  the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which set the bar at one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The authors of the study admitted it had its limitations, including potential bias from self-reported surveys, a lack of records of alcohol consumption over the course of the entire lives of the participants, and non-alcohol related factors that could potentially contribute to a shorter life span. Nonetheless, the findings strongly indicate that the recommended dose of alcohol per week should be lower than it is at present, a conclusion that is in accordance with the most recent information available from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Although past studies have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption has protective health benefits (e.g., reducing risk of heart disease), recent studies show this may not be true," the official website reads. "While some studies have found improved health outcomes among moderate drinkers, it's impossible to conclude whether these improved outcomes are due to moderate alcohol consumption or other differences in behaviors or genetics between people who drink moderately and people who don't."

At the end of the day, how much you drink depends on how much you value short-term gratification over a long-term lifespan. But the research helps keep you informed. Lead author Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, told BBC.com that, "The key message of this research is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions." And if you're looking to clean up your act soon, know that This Is the Difference Between a "Cleanse" and a "Detox." 

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more