Moderate drinking, i.e a glass of wine or a bottle of beer a night, could reduce your risk of an early death by a fifth, says new research.
The findings of the research, conducted on more than 300,000 Americans by scientists in China, directly contradicts official guidance published by the British chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies. In fact, she states that there is 'no safe level' of drinking.
However despite the advice coming from the government's most senior advisor on health matters, experts are saying the benefits to the heart that comes with moderate drinking clearly outweigh the risk factors, particularly among the elderly.
The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Texas and Shandong University in China, analysed the drinking habits of 333,247 Americans over an average of 8.2 years.
The classification of 'moderate drinker' for a female was given to those that drank up to 7 standard drinks a week. This equated to a 140ml glass of 12% strength wine or 340ml bottle of 5% beer. For male participants this classification extended to 14 drinks per week.
Moderate drinkers 22% less likely to die
The results of the analysis, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, revealed that moderate drinkers were 22% less likely to die over the study period than those who did not drink any alcohol at all. Moderate alcohol consumption appeared to be particularly protective of the heart, with deaths from cardiovascular disease reduced by 29%.
It is important to note that there is a fine line between the benefits that come from drinking alcohol and the damaging effects of drinking too much - the scientists made a point to emphasis this in the article. In fact those participants that consumed more than the 'moderate' threshold outlined above, were 11% more likely to die that the life-long teetotallers.
Among heavy drinkers the risk of cancer was particularly pronounced, with an increased cancer death risk of 27% compared to abstainers.
Benefits of moderate drinking are linked to the antioxidants
It is thought that the benefits of moderate drinking are linked to the antioxidants in alcoholic drinks, an increase in ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and alcohol’s ability to combat the damaging effects of inflammation in the body.
Lead author, professor Bo Xi states:
‘Light-to-moderate drinking might have some protective effects against cardiovascular disease, while heavy drinking can lead to death. A delicate balance exists between the beneficial and detrimental effects of alcohol consumption, which should be stressed to consumers and patients.’
Researchers claim to have dealt with criticism of previous studies with similar results
Previous studies with similar conclusions had been heavily criticised because other experts claim results had been skewed by sick participants who had abstained from alcohol because of existing health conditions.
And also that middle-class people, who generally have better health, were more likely to drink moderately than the poor - again providing skewed results.
However, the scientists behind this latest research claim to have dealt with these concerns by comparing drinkers only to people who were lifelong abstainers, and by adjusting for socio-economic factors.