CHICAGO, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Daily drinkers at any age are 20 percent more likely to die prematurely than less frequent drinkers, suggests a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Analyzing data from more than 400,000 people, the study focused on two large groups of people in the U.S.: 340,668 participants aged 18-85 in the National Health Interview Survey, and another 93,653 individuals aged 40-400 who were treated as outpatients at Veterans Administration clinics.
The researchers found that consuming one to two drinks four or more times per week, an amount deemed healthy by current guidelines, increases the risk of premature death by 20 percent, compared with drinking three times a week or less. The increased risk of death was consistent across age groups.
"A 20 percent increase in risk of death is a much bigger deal in older people who already are at higher risk," said first author Sarah M. Hartz, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the university. "Relatively few people die in their 20s, so a 20 percent increase in mortality is small but still significant. As people age, their risk of death from any cause also increases, so a 20 percent risk increase at age 75 translates into many more deaths than it does at age 25."
She predicted that as medicine becomes more personalized, some doctors may recommend that people with family histories of heart problems have a drink from time to time, but in families with a history of cancer, physicians may recommend abstinence.
Some earlier studies have linked light drinking to improvements in cardiovascular health. The new study shows that those potential gains are outweighed by other risks. The researchers evaluated heart disease risk and cancer risk and found that although in some cases drinking alcohol may reduce risk of heart-related problems, daily drinking increased cancer risk and, as a result, mortality risk.
"Consuming one or two drinks about four days per week seemed to protect against cardiovascular disease, but drinking every day eliminated those benefits," Hartz said. "With regard to cancer risk, any drinking at all was detrimental."
The study was published online Oct. 3 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Enditem