UK researchers say that light drinking is not a universal health booster, and its effects on health and mortality appear to vary by gender. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that death rates for young adults and middle-aged women increased with the amount of alcohol they consumed. Importantly, the risk of death began to climb when people consumed as little as one drink per week.
Researchers have often represented the relationship between alcohol consumption and risk of death as a U-shaped curve, with no drinking and heavy drinking associated with higher risks of death from all causes. But this study found that the U-shaped curve relationship between drinking and health appears to apply only to men over 34 and to women older than 54. And for people of other ages, even light drinking can increase the risk of death, the researchers caution.
Previous research has suggested that light drinking--defined no more than one or two drinks each day--can protect people from certain cardiovascular risks, such as heart disease and stroke. While the mechanism by which alcohol may lower heart disease risk is not clear, it is believed to increase HDL ("good") cholesterol, thereby keeping arteries clear. Alcohol may also help keep the blood thin and prevent blood clots, which can lead to stroke. Finally, alcohol may help lower blood levels of insulin, which may in turn cut the risk of heart disease.
However, the current research suggests that the benefits of alcohol vary with age.
The investigators found the amount of alcohol consumption associated with the lowest death rates was no alcohol at all for men and women under 35, and 3 and 8 drinks per week for women and men, respectively, older than 65. One drink is roughly equivalent to one glass of wine.
Currently women are advised to limit their drinking to no more than one drink per day a day, or a maximum of seven per week. For men, no more than nine drinks per week, or one to two drinks per day.
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