There’s “no safe level of alcohol,” major new study concludes

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(CBS) – While some medical studies — and a great deal of media attention — have focused on possible health benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation, a large new report warns that the harms of alcohol greatly outweigh any potential beneficial effects. The authors of the study, which looks at data on 28 million people worldwide, determined that considering the risks, there is “no safe level of alcohol.”

Alcohol is associated with 2.8 million deaths worldwide each year, the researchers found in the study, which is published in the journal The Lancet. Just over 2 percent of women and nearly 7 percent of men worldwide die from alcohol-related health problems each year.

Regular alcohol consumption can have negative impacts on the body’s organs and tissues, while binge drinking can lead to injuries or alcohol poisoning. Alcohol dependence can lead to self-harm or violence.

“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,” lead author Dr. Max Griswold, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said in a statement. “In particular, the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for ischemic heart disease in women in our study.”

He added, “Although the health risks associated with alcohol starts off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.”

Across the globe, one in three people drink alcohol, equivalent to 2.4 billion people, according to the report.

For the study, the authors reviewed data from 694 studies to estimate how common drinking alcohol is worldwide. They also looked at 592 studies with data on 28 million people in 195 countries to study the health risks associated with alcohol.

Among the many findings, the research showed that drinking alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease in 2016. That year, in people aged 15 to 49 years old, alcohol was the leading risk factor, with 3.8 percent of deaths in women and 12.2 percent of deaths in men connected to alcohol. 

In this age group, the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths included tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm. In people age 50 and older, cancers were a leading cause of alcohol-related death, accounting for about 27 percent of deaths in women and 19 percent of deaths in men.

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