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Drinking, Good or Bad?

Posted by Doctaly on

Here is a question that most of us would love to be able to answer with a definite and resounding ‘YES’ or in my case ‘NO’! Is drinking good for your health? I have often found myself confused on the advice being offered when it comes to drinking alcohol. How many units is moderate drinking? Is there a safe level? Should pregnant women drink at all? Is alcohol abstinence better for your health or worse?

2018 saw several studies being published, on the safe level of alcohol consumption, with differing end results and thereon more confusion for the general public. If you are concerned about the risks associated with your level of alcohol consumption, speak with your GP.

Click here to help you calculate your alcohol intake: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/tools/

One day, the media tell you that drinking moderately could be beneficial to your health or certainly reduce the incidence of certain conditions and yet the following day, zero alcohol is best for your health. If like me, you end up being confused, then welcome to the club and hopefully this article will provide some useful insight on the link between alcohol and health.

In context, in the UK in 2016 there were 7,327 alcohol-specific deaths. These are deaths directly attributable to alcohol, with conditions such as alcoholic gastritis, alcoholic liver disease, alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis etc.

Public Health England (February 2018) reports that in 2016/17, there were approximately 1,135,709 admissions related to alcohol consumption in England.

In June 2018, a cohort study involving 99,654 adults in the U.S looked at the impact of lifetime alcohol use with mortality and cancer risk in older adults. This study was carried out because whilst the detrimental effect of heavy alcohol intake is well acknowledged, there has been suggestion that light drinking may have some protective effect for cardiovascular disease, which seems to contradict some public health messages. The results showed that the risk of some cancers increased with each additional alcohol drink consumed per week. It also demonstrated that the risk of cancer and death was lower in light drinkers (less than 1 drink per day) than those who drank more. What the study could not show was whether light drinking was beneficial to our health.

In April 2018 and August 2018, two large studies concluded and agreed on the fact that the current guidelines for weekly alcohol consumption levels should be reviewed down. In fact, the August 2018 titled ‘Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016:’ study went a step further and concluded that ‘the level of alcohol consumption that minimised harm across health outcomes was zero (95% UI 0·0–0·8) standard drinks per week’. This latest study also pointed out that there were several other conditions which seemed to have a positive correlation with alcohol consumption such as psoriasis and dementia.

A further body of studies have shown some protective effect with moderate consumption of alcohol on cognition, whilst others conclude that abstinence is best when it comes to brain health. ‘Chronic heavy intake is a well-established cause of brain atrophy and dementia’ we are told in a clinical review on the ‘Effects of drinking on late-life brain and cognition’. The epidemiological studies that claimed some protective effects, however were later found to lack support when more rigorous studies found ‘new evidence of harmful associations in moderate drinkers compared with abstainers’.

If you have not yet consulted the NHS guidelines on alcohol consumptions, you can check them at https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/new-alcohol-advice-issued/ , although to note these are dated 2016 and will not have taken into account recent studies, which advocate for lower weekly intake.

Your GP is always an amazing sounding board to discuss any concerns you may have relating to alcohol intake and Doctaly’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Dinesh Silva offers the following advice:

Some people are more likely to be affected by alcohol than others based on the following, and so additional care should be exercised when drinking alcohol:

  • Young adults
  • Older people
  • Low body weight
  • Any other health problems
  • People already on certain medication

If you are pregnant, the safest approach recommended by NHS England is to not drink at all. If you have only just found out that you were expecting and had been drinking, it is unlikely to have caused any arm to your baby, although you should avoid drinking alcohol for the remainder of your pregnancy.

Guidelines for regular drinking are currently set at 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women. To help you calculate what 14 units equates, you may find this link useful: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator.

  • 14 units per week.
  • Best to spread evenly over the week.
  • Take a few alcohol-free days during the week to help you reduce your intake

When it comes to a single drinking session, it is best to limit your total intake, and ensure that you eat and drink slowly. Taking a glass of water in between, is a good way to pace yourself. Always be mindful of your security when under the influence of alcohol.

So, should you drink at all? We asked Dr Dinesh Silva…

“If you are teetotal then definitely keep it that way, as studies suggest that no alcohol is best, although if you look at the details of these studies, a small amount of alcohol, light drinking, will not contribute significantly to various health conditions. What the recent studies have shown however is that there is a need to probably review national guidelines around the world.”

If you would like to discuss your alcohol intake with a GP please click here to book an appointment with a Doctaly today.

Posted in: Lifestyle