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Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing 60 diseases, a major study suggests.
Liver cirrhosis — scarring caused by continuous, long-term liver damage — strokes and cancer are already well-established risks of excess boozing.
But Oxford University researchers, who analysed data from half a million men living in China, have now found it can raise the risk of gout and cataracts.
Other disorders never-before-linked to booze in the study include fractures, lung cancer and circulatory diseases.
Some of the links were apparent for low amounts of alcohol, even intake below NHS guidelines.
Experts said the findings show that drinking alcohol is liked to a ‘much wider range of diseases’ than previously thought.
Researchers in the UK and Australia noted that while alcohol is responsible for ‘substantial disease’ around the world, their findings suggest it ‘may actually be beneficial’ for inflammation
Excessive alcohol consumption is estimated to be behind around 3million deaths worldwide each year.
The NHS advises men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, with one unit being half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) says that no amount of alcohol is safe.
However, this is fiercely debated. Studies have suggested that a glass of wine or pint of beer a day can stave off a host of illnesses.
Researchers from Oxford teamed up with academics at both Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences for the study.
How much alcohol is too much?
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the NHS advises men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
- half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
- a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
But the NHS warns the risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
Short-term risks include injury, violent behaviour and alcohol poisoning.
Long-term risks include heart and liver disease, strokes, as well as liver, bowel, moth and breast cancer.
People who drink as much as 14 units a week are advised to spread it evenly over three or more days, rather than binge drinking.
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised not to drink to reduce risks for the baby.
They examined data from a Chinese database containing the health information of more than 512,000 adults, aged 52 on average. It included details on their drinking patterns.
About a third of men drank alcohol regularly — at least once a week — while the rate was just two per cent among women.
As a result, women were used as a control group to confirm that excess disease risk in men were caused by alcohol drinking, rather than a mechanism related to genetic variants.
They analysed hospital records of 12 years to assess how alcohol affected the risk of developing 207 different diseases. Some weren’t medical diseases as such, with transport accidents and injuries also included.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, show alcohol use increases the risks of 60 diseases in men in China.
This included 28 diseases previously established by the World Health Organization as alcohol-related, such as liver, bowel and rectal cancers.
However, they also identified 33 not previously established, such as gout, cataract, some fractures and gastric ulcers.
Certain drinking patterns — such as drinking daily, binging or drinking outside mealtimes — particularly increased the risks of certain diseases, including liver cirrhosis.
The team also identified dose-dependent links, with every four drinks per day associated with a 14 per cent higher risk of having an alcohol-related disease.
Drinking this much alcohol also carried a six per cent increased risk of developing the 33 newly-identified alcohol-related diseases.
Additionally, every four drinks per day was linked with a more than two-fold higher risk of liver cirrhosis and gout.
Men who drank alcohol regularly had a higher risk of admission and of developing any diseases, compared to men who only drink occasionally.
The study demonstrates the influence that alcohol intake may have on risk of disease in populations around the world, the team said.
Pek Kei Im, study author, said: ‘Alcohol consumption is adversely related to a much wider range of diseases than has previously been established, and our findings show these associations are likely to be causal.’
Professor Liming Li, a senior author and CKB co-PI from Peking University, said: ‘Levels of alcohol consumption are rising in China, particularly among men.
‘This large collaborative study demonstrates a need to strengthen alcohol control policies in China.’
Iona Millwood, associate professor at Oxford Population Health and a senior study author, said: ‘It is becoming clear that the harmful use of alcohol is one of the most important risk factors for poor health, both in China and globally.’
Fellow researcher Professor Zhengming Chen said: ‘This study provides important causal evidence of the scale of alcohol-related harms, which is critical to inform prevention strategies in different countries.’
Puja Darbari, managing director of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, said: ‘The main analysis of study has a significant limitation as it does not differentiate between light or moderate drinking and heavy drinkers and doesn’t include a comparison with abstainers.
‘The average consumption of those studied was 280g a week, which is more than double the UK guidelines and double guidelines for men in the US.
‘In further analyses the author’s own findings support the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies since the 1970s reporting that light and moderate drinkers tend to live at least as long as non-drinkers, and generally live longer than those who drink heavily.
‘For most adults, any risk posed by the moderate consumption of alcohol is low; everyone should avoid drinking to excess, and for some people the better choice may be not to drink at all.
‘Anyone with questions about their drinking should speak to their healthcare professionals to better understand the impact of drinking on their individual health.’
THE 60 DISEASES ALCOHOL INCREASES THE RISK FOR
- Laryngeal cancer
- Oesophageal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Uncertain neoplasm
- Colon cancer
- Lung cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Other cancer
- Lip, oral cavity and pharynx cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Other anaemias
- Purpura and other haemorrhagic conditions
- Other metabolic disorders
- Diabetes melitus
- Less common psychiatric and behavioural conditions combined
- Transient cerebral ischaemic attacks
- Phlebitis and thrombophlebitis
- Intracerebral haemorrhage
- Sequelae of cerebrovascular disease
- Hypertensive heart disease
- Essential (primary) hypertension
- Cerebral infarction
- Complications of heart disease
- Stroke, not specified
- Occlusion and stenosis of cerebral arteries
- Occlusion and stenosis of precerebral arteries
- Other cerebrovascular diseases
- Chronic ischaemic heart disease
- Less common circulatory diseases combined
- Unspecified chronic bronchitis
- Other chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Alcoholic liver disease
- Fibrosis and cirrhosis of liver
- Other inflammatory liver diseases
- Abscess of anal and rectal regions
- Gastro−oesophageal reflux disease
- Gastric ulcer
- Other diseases of digestive system
- Other diseases of liver
- Other local infections (skin/subcutaneous tissue)
- Other arthrosis
- Abnormal results of function studies
- Malaise and fatigue
- Other ill−defined/unspecified mortality causes
- Unknown/unspecified morbidity causes
- Fracture of shoulder and upper arm
- Fracture of femur
- Fracture of rib(s)/sternum/thoracic spine
- Less common injury, poisoning and other external causes combined
- Intentional self−harm
- Transport accidents