Drinking more than one small shot glass of beer a day can pose health risks to men under the age of 40, a study suggests, as researchers urged younger adults to avoid alcohol.
And a safe daily limit for women aged 39 and under is equivalent to two tablespoons of wine or 100 ml of beer, the research suggests.
But those over 40 can toast their health with a drink or two, as academics found that a small amount of alcohol can help stave off heart disease, stroke and diabetes in this age group.
Researchers said young people face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults.
They called for stronger guidance to warn younger adults about the health dangers of drinking and said there should be tailored alcohol guidance that depends on a person’s age and where they live in the world.
About 1.34 billion people are estimated to have consumed harmful amounts of alcohol by 2020, according to the analysis of drinking habits in 204 countries across the globe.
The study, published in The Lancet, found that 59% of those who drank harmful amounts were people aged 15 to 39 – for whom alcohol does not provide any health benefits and poses risks, including injuries related to drinking or car accidents, suicide or murder.
And three-quarters of the harmful drinkers were men.
Senior author Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the United States, said: “Our message is simple: young people should not drink, but older people may benefit from drinking small amounts.
“While it may not be realistic to believe that young adults will refrain from drinking, we believe it is important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health.”
Researchers examined the risk of alcohol consumption on 22 health outcomes, including injuries, cardiovascular disease and cancers using 2020 Global Burden of Disease data.
Using this information, the researchers were able to estimate how much alcohol a person can drink before taking an excessive risk to their health compared to a person who does not drink alcohol.
They found that the level of alcohol that can be consumed without increasing health risks increases throughout life.
“This is driven by differences in the main causes of death and disease burden at different ages,” the authors wrote.
“Any level of drinking leads to a higher likelihood of injury, while small amounts of alcohol reduce the risk of some conditions prevalent in older ages, such as ischemic heart disease and diabetes.”
Researchers considered a standard drink to be a 100 ml glass of 13% wine or 375 ml of 3.5% beer.
– For men aged 15 to 39 years, the recommended amount of alcohol before “risking health loss” was only 0.136 of a standard drink. That equates to about 10 ml of wine – or two standard teaspoons – or 38 ml of beer, which is equivalent to a small shot glass.
– For women aged 15 to 39 years, the “theoretical minimum risk exposure level” was 0.273 drinks – about a quarter of a standard drink per day. This equates to about two tablespoons of wine or about 100 ml of beer.
– For adults aged 40 years and older without any underlying health condition, drinking a small amount of alcohol was associated with some health benefits, such as reducing the risk of ischemic heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
– Among those aged 40 to 64, safe alcohol consumption ranged from about half a standard drink a day to almost two standard drinks.
– For people aged 65 and over, the risk of “health loss from alcohol consumption” was reached after consuming a little more than three standard drinks a day.
– On average, the recommended alcohol intake for adults over the age of 40 remained low and peaked at 1.87 standard drinks a day, after which the health risks of each drink increased.
Lead author Dana Bryazka, a researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, said: “Even if a conservative approach is taken and the lowest level of safe consumption is used to make policy recommendations, it means , that the recommended alcohol consumption is still too high for younger sections of the population.
“Our estimates, based on currently available evidence, support guidelines that differ by age and region.
“Understanding the variation in the level of alcohol consumption that minimizes the risk of health loss to populations can help establish effective consumption guidelines, support alcohol control policies, monitor progress in reducing harmful alcohol consumption, and design public health risk messages.”
Dr. Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, said: “The new science of alcohol, through hundreds of studies over the last 20 years, tells us very clearly that alcohol is very harmful to the human body in several ways.
“We were previously unaware of this, and for many of us continue to drink, as if this revolution in our knowledge has not happened.
“If you’re worried about your health, by far the best approach is to refrain from drinking at all.
“If you choose to drink alcohol, listen carefully to the UK’s Chief Medical Officers and do not exceed 14 units per week (approximately six pints of lager or one and a half bottles of wine), so have at least three non-alcoholic days a week and never exceed more than six units in one day. “