Safe drinking levels - new guidance welcomed

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HEALTH experts and charities have welcomed new guidance on safer drinking levels.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s expert on cancer prevention, said: “The link between alcohol and cancer is now well established, and it’s not just heavy drinkers who are at risk. There is no ‘safe’ level of drinking when it comes to cancer - the less you drink, the lower your risk.

Drinking levels in the UK are almost double what they were in 1960, so it’s vital we invest in national health campaigns to provide people with clear information about the health risks of drinking alcohol, particularly at levels above these new guidelines

Professor Linda Bauld

“Many people still don’t know that alcohol increases the risk of seven types of cancer, including breast, mouth and bowel cancers.

“Drinking levels in the UK are almost double what they were in 1960, so it’s vital we invest in national health campaigns to provide people with clear information about the health risks of drinking alcohol, particularly at levels above these new guidelines.”

Professor Mark Petticrew, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chaired the group developing the guidelines, said: “We have reviewed all the evidence thoroughly and our guidance is firmly based on the science, but we also considered what is likely to be acceptable as a low-risk level of drinking and the need to have a clear message.”

Matt Field, professor of addiction at the University of Liverpool, said: “One of the most important changes is that there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption: any amount of drinking is associated with increased risk of a number of diseases; the often-reported ‘protective’ effects will not apply to the majority of people and where they do apply, they refer to very low levels of drinking.

“So, any amount of alcohol consumption carries some risk.

“However, it is important to bear in mind that most activities that people undertake on a daily basis (eg driving to work) carry some risk, and people need to make informed choices about the level of risk that they are prepared to accept.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “This is a real step in the right direction on alcohol in the UK. We welcome the recommendation as we’ve known for some time that regularly drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer.

“There is unfortunately no ‘safe’ alcohol limit when it comes to increasing one’s cancer risk. It’s imperative that men and women fully understand the risks involved and that clear information about the alcohol content of all drinks is now provided.”

A statement from the Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment said: “The new studies show that people who drink even low levels of alcohol have a greater risk of getting cancers of the mouth and throat, gullet, and of breast cancer in women than people who do not drink alcohol at all.

“Drinking approximately 1.5 units per day (10.5 units per week) or more increases the risk of cancers of the voice box and large bowel, whilst cancers of the liver and pancreas are more common in people who drink approximately six units per day (42 units per week) or more.”

Dr John Holmes, senior research fellow from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, said: “Having the same guidelines for men and women reflects that there are only very minor differences in alcohol-related health risk between the sexes at this level of consumption (ie up to 14 units per week).

“At higher levels of consumption, health risks from the same level of drinking are greater for women than for men.”