With alcoholism a growing problem in the UK and the NHS under immense strain every year from alcohol-related injuries and illnesses, it was only a matter of time before the UK Government reviewed the existing alcohol guidelines that had been in place for the past 21 years.
Englands chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has been reviewing the guidelines with a team of experts, and it has now been announced that the weekly recommended limit for men has been reduced from 21 units per week to 14, putting it in line with the recommended weekly limit for women. However, there were also stark warnings that even a small amount of alcohol can increase the risk of some cancers.
According to Dame Sally, Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week, it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.
The new limits mean that men should drink no more than seven pints of beer or lager per week or nine small glasses of wine. The limit has dropped by seven units for men but remains unchanged for women. The change has led to the UK being one of only a few countries issuing identical guidelines for both men and women.
Sticking to the Guidelines
With the announcement that there are no safe levels of alcohol consumption when it comes to certain cancers, many people will be concerned about drinking at all. But should they be? According to Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, These guidelines define low-risk drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition.
He also added, An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.
There could be further recommendations, with the Department of Health currently consulting on whether to introduce guidelines for a maximum daily allowance. The new guidelines are recommending that the weekly limit is spread over the course of three to four days with several days per week that are alcohol-free.
There has also been a change to recommendations for pregnant women. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, mums-to-be were previously told that alcohol should be avoided, but if they did drink, then they should not consume more than one or two units less than twice per week. Now pregnant women have been told it is best to avoid alcohol entirely.
The publishing of the new guidelines coincides with the Committee on Carcinogenicitys latest findings. The committee has found that the more alcohol a person consumes, the higher the risk of cancer developing. Even those who consume less than 10.5 units per week have an increased risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, and gullet; women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
These new findings contradict previous advice that a small amount of alcohol, in particular red wine, is good for the heart. While it was once believed that a small amount of alcohol provided a protective effect against certain heart conditions, this is no longer the case. In fact, it is only women over the age of 55 who benefit from drinking no more than five units per week. If they drink more than this, the protection is lost.
With alcohol causing so many problems to health and putting an enormous financial strain on the economy, it is hoped that more people will consider lowering the amount of alcohol they consume every week, based on these new guidelines.