Previous research has suggested benefits to the heart from a daily drink, ascribed variously to beneficial anti-oxidants in red wine, reduced chance of blood clots or simply its stress-relieving properties as a social lubricant.
However, doctors from Washington School of Medicine showed that these benefits disappeared in people who drank regularly, and were outweighed by other risks.
“Now we know that even the lightest daily drinkers have an increased mortality risk,” said Dr Sarah Hartz, first author of the research in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research on Wednesday.
“Consuming one or two drinks about four days per week seemed to protect against cardiovascular disease, but drinking every day eliminated those benefits,” she added. “With regard to cancer risk, any drinking at all was detrimental.”
In the UK, current guidelines say adults should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week, that’s six medium (175ml) glasses of wine a week or pints of beer (of 4 per cent strength).
Health officials also made a recent call for middle-aged drinkers to ensure they have “alcohol-free days” during the week.
For their study, Dr Hartz and colleagues analysed data from more than 400,000 US adults between the ages of 18 and 85 and found the 20 per cent higher risk of dying early, from any cause, when people drank on more than three days a week.
It follows a large review in The Lancet medical journal which came to similar conclusions but led the authors to say there were no benefits to drinking whatsoever and suggest guidelines should recommend absenteeism.
The latest study found the 20 per cent risk increase in all age groups. But while the authors say people in their 20s and 30s – where mortality rates are naturally lower – might not be particularly concerned about a 20 per cent increase in this risk, it could help inform age-targeted drinking guidance.
“As people age, their risk of death from any cause also increases, so a 20 per cent risk increase at age 75 translates into many more deaths than it does at age 25,” Dr Hartz said.
“If you tailor medical recommendations to an individual person, there may be situations under which you would think that occasional drinking potentially could be helpful.
“But overall, I do think people should no longer consider a glass of wine a day to somehow be healthy.”
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