Like drinking water, eating more broccoli and trying to get fit, drinking alcohol is linked to better health and a higher quality of life for Britons, a study has found.
Published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday, the British study is the largest ever carried out on the subject and was conducted by researchers from Queen Mary University of London.
The study involved 7,176 men and women aged 17 to 66. Researchers looked at alcohol intake and smoking rates from the participants as well as their rates of disease and functional disability. Participants were then followed for an average of seven years.
What they found was that a similar number of those who abstained from drinking never experienced any alcohol-related serious health problems. The main exception was a small rise in stroke risk in men, but the increase was not large enough to be significant. When it came to women, who are likely to engage in a higher risk of heavy drinking, there was no significant increase in risk of stroke or other serious problems.
Alcohol also lowers the risk of suffering from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. There was also a link between a reduced risk of circulatory disease, cognitive impairment and metabolic disorders.
The increase in vascular risk was notable in people who smoked and in the greater percentage of low-skilled workers (who tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to smoke). Among high-skilled workers, there was no increase in vascular risk associated with alcohol consumption.
Smoking is the most significant contributor to preventable chronic disease in the UK and is a significant contributor to the disease burden that costs the economy billions of pounds each year. Alcohol is estimated to account for about a third of the total cost.
The study also found that certain populations had a higher risk of alcohol-related long-term conditions than others. For example, men who drank more than 12 units per week had a higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and higher motor skills. For women, the risk was higher in those aged between 45 and 59.
These figures suggest that we should be aware of our drinking patterns, but should not change our drinking habits.
“Our data provide a clear picture of how alcohol affects health in the UK, including effects on specific diseases and health outcomes,” the researchers wrote. “The effects of alcohol on particular diseases varies with sex, age, and other factors.”