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By Anthony Mazzini SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — A recently published study found that consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol can potentially take years off of your life and could cause severe health complications. The recommended amounts of alcohol are based on the United Kingdom’s recommended upper levels of consumption.
The study, which looked at cardiovascular consequences from drinking alcohol, consisted of data from nearly 600,000 people across 19 countries. Jane Burrell Uzcategui, an associate teaching professor in the nutrition program at Syracuse University, said the study is “well-designed,” and the number of participants in the study gives it a lot of power and value.
Burrell Uzcategui said the study shows a j-shaped curve pertaining to alcohol intake and the health consequences.
“So what I mean by that: those that have the very lowest intake, we actually saw a slightly higher increase in mortality from different causes,” Burrell Uzcategui said. “And then at the lowest part of the curve, meaning the least-likelihood of having any kind of problem associated, was at this 100 grams of alcohol per week. That’s about that one drink per day. And then there is increase and then when you get to very high alcohol consumption, your risk of dying – they looked at cardiovascular disease – is much higher than it is at this level of about 100 grams per week.”
In the United Kingdom, five glasses of wine or five pints of beer per week are the safe upper limits, the study said. According to The Guardian, the United Kingdom has one of the lowest recommended alcoholic intake levels in the world, especially for men.
The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that every unit of beer or wine above the UK’s daily recommended levels takes about 30 minutes off of your life, roughly the same amount of time taken away by a cigarette. The study found that 10 to 15 drinks per week, which is five to 10 more than the UK’s recommended weekly intake, could shorten your life by one to two years. If someone consumes 18 or more drinks per week, that level of alcohol consumption could take four to five years off of that person’s life.
In the United States, the recommendation for alcohol consumption is up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, Burrell Uzcategui said. That makes the United States’ recommended levels higher than the United Kingdom’s recommendations.
Despite the findings of the British study and knowing the recommended consumption levels in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Burrell Uzcategui is not convinced that the US should change its recommended intake levels.
“We’ve got a wealth of research that has been used to establish those recommendations, so no, I would not make any changes in recommendation to this,” said Burrell Uzcategui, who teaches classes about nutrition and health as well as medical nutrition therapy.
The study did find that there is still some benefit to drinking alcohol, and Burrell Uzcategui supports that.
“We do see, and this does show this, we’ve got wealth of information that does show us that moderate alcohol intake is protective,” she said.
Burrell Uzcategui said that health is more than just drinking alcohol, including factors such as exercise and quality of food, and also said that occasionally exceeding the recommended levels of alcohol consumption will not necessarily result in health complications.
“If you have a little more than recommended, you’re not going to die of cardiovascular disease tomorrow,” Burrell Uzcategui said. “That’s a disease that takes a long time to develop.”
Some people who frequently exceed recommended alcohol consumption levels are college students. At Syracuse University, Marshall Street and South Crouse Avenue are littered with bars and convenience stores that sell alcohol. It is hard to miss the light-up neon signs in windows promoting alcoholic beverages.
Some students plan to take this study into consideration when they drink in the future.
“That’s definitely terrifying,” said Sara Nevin, a senior who said she drinks a glass of wine a couple times during the week and then drinks more, including shots, when she goes out with friends. “I think everyone knows alcohol has health warnings to it, and when you’re drinking a lot, you don’t really think about the long-term effects it could have on you, especially since we’re so young. It’s hard to think about how it will impact your life in twenty, thirty years. So, I definitely think I’ll be more aware.”
However, there are still some doubts about studies like this.
“It’s always kind of interesting when just one study comes out and says something like that, and not multiple studies,” said Josh Schafer, a sophomore who said he drinks about five drinks per night roughly twice per week, but sometimes reaches about 10 drinks per night on a heavy occasion. “It’s surprising and unfortunate to hear, but to be honest, I don’t know if it would change my habits that much.”
Although many students do not think of their future health while they drink, Burrell Uzcategui said this study and its findings serve as a reminder to be cautious.
“Because they’re younger, their overall risk for cardiovascular disease is lower at that point, but it should not be a, sort of, pass to say, ‘It doesn’t matter now,’” Burrell Uzcategui said. “It does, because behaviors are established early, so if we look at what behaviors you’re participating in your college years, and then is that continuing on, so we do see over time the effect is going to have the impact.”