New alcohol guidelines show increased risk of cancer

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The Department of Health has updated alcohol consumption guidelines giving new advice on limits for men and pregnant women.

New guidelines for alcohol consumption, produced by the UK Chief Medical Officers, warn that drinking any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers. This is supported by a new review from the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) on alcohol and cancer risk.

It is now known that the risks start from any level of regular drinking and increase with the amount being drunk, and the new guidelines are aimed at keeping the risk of mortality from cancers or other diseases low. The links between alcohol and cancer were not fully understood in the original guidelines, which came out in 1995.

This review also found that the benefits of alcohol for heart health only apply for women aged 55 and over. The greatest benefit is seen when these women limit their intake to around 5 units a week, the equivalent of around 2 standard glasses of wine. The group concluded that there is no justification for drinking for health reasons.

These issues prompted changes to alcohol guidelines for men. Men should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the same level as for women. This equals 6 pints of average strength beer a week, which would mean a low risk of illnesses such as liver disease or cancer. The previous guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women per week.

An additional recommendation is not to ‘save up’ the 14 units for 1 or 2 days, but to spread them over 3 or more days. People who have 1 or 2 heavy drinking sessions each week increase the risk of death from long term illnesses, accidents and injuries. A good way to reduce alcohol intake is to have several alcohol free days a week.

The guidelines for pregnant women have also been updated to clarify that no level of alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy. The previous advice for pregnant women to limit themselves to no more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol once or twice per week has been removed to provide greater clarity as a precaution.

Full news story available: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-alcohol-guidelines-show-increased-risk-of-cancer

Guidance from Public Health England and Department of Health on the Consumption of alcoholic beverages and risk of cancer: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consumption-of-alcoholic-beverages-and-risk-of-cancer

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