Drinking more than recommended limits can SLASH your life expectancy

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About half of those studied reported drinking more than 12.5 units a week - roughly five pints or medium glasses of wine - while nearly one in ten (8.5 per cent) consumed more than triple that amount.

The research combined results from 83 studies conducted in 19 countries, tracking almost 600,000 people who drank alcohol. The findings were roughly the same for both men and women, suggesting recommended levels for both sexes should be the same.

There's a transatlantic difference of opinion about drinking limits for men and women.

That's about 10 standard drinks a week and is significantly lower than the no more than two-a-day limit imposed under official Australian Guidelines. But even that is too much, according to this new study.

The authors say their findings challenge the widely held belief that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health, and support the UK's recently lowered guidelines.

Alcohol Action NZ medical spokesman Doug Sellman also said the Kiwi guidelines around drinking should drop.

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The heavier drinkers were also less likely to have a heart attack, the study found.

The common explanation is that alcohol can boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, which can be protective against arterial blockages.

However, higher levels of alcohol were also linked to a lower risk of heart attack, or myocardial infarction.

Drinking more than 12.5 units of alcohol per week (about five pints of average-strength beer or five medium glasses of mid-strength wine) was found to be associated with increased overall risk of death, stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysm, and coronary heart disease, apart from non-fatal heart attacks. This type of research - especially when carried out at this scale and with the care the authors took to ensure their methods were robust - is a good way to summarise the best research we have on a particular subject.

The upper safe limit of drinking was about five drinks per week (100g of pure alcohol, 12.5 units or just over five pints of 4% ABV beer or five 175ml glasses of 13% ABV wine).

We won't bore you with the math it takes to figure out how many units of alcohol are in your drink, but instead, provide this handy guide that shows that on average, a glass of red wine has two units of alcohol while white wine has three.

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"But I don't believe there is a safe number", she said. The effects of alcohol on health are very complicated. Drinking 200 to 350 grams per week was estimated to reduce life span by one to two years and drinking more than 350 grams per week by four to five years.

But as the drinker ventures further beyond the threshold, the life expectancy continues to erode in dramatic fashion.

About half the participants said they had more than 100 grams of alcohol a week.

This increases with higher alcohol consumption, with those who have 18 drinks or more losing up to five years of life.

These warnings should be heeded by physicians when talking to their patients about their drinking habits, said one of the study co-authors, Dan G. Blazer, professor of psychiatry emeritus at Duke University School of Medicine.

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