Alcohol kills 2.8 million people every year globally, causing cancer, heart disease and road accidents and even by worsening tuberculosis, researchers have said.
They found no evidence that light drinking might help keep people healthy and said there is no evidence that drinking any alcohol at all improves health.
Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol, which suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely.
The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world.
Alcohol, says their report published in the Lancet medical journal, led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group, accounting for 20 per cent of deaths. “Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more,” Max Griswold of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study team, said in a statement.
“Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol,” he said.
The large international team, which included hundreds of researchers, examined data from more than 1,000 studies.
There is some evidence that alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease very slightly, but that effect is more than outweighed by the other damage it causes.
Alcohol use comes in seventh as an overall cause of death, said the team, whose work was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
But it was the leading risk factor for early death in 2016 for people aged 15 to 49, they found. Alcohol use caused death by injury, by self-harm and by worsening tuberculosis in this group, the team found.
For older people, cancer is the most common fatal health consequence of drinking. That fits in with a separate study released yesterday, which found that men who drank an average of seven drinks a day as teenagers had three times the risk of developing prostate cancer later in life.
It is probably because alcohol damages developing cells, said the senior editor of the study, Emma Allott, who teaches nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“The prostate is an organ that grows rapidly during puberty, so it’s potentially more susceptible to carcinogenic exposure during the adolescent years,” Allott said in a statement.
“We also found a positive association between higher cumulative lifetime alcohol intake and high-grade prostate cancer diagnosis,” the team wrote in their report, published in Cancer Prevention Research.
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