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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Alcohol 'only benefits old'
Moderate drinking can protect against heart disease
The health benefits of alcohol only apply to middle aged and older people, a study suggests.

Researchers in the UK have also found that even light drinking by younger people is linked to a higher risk of dying from a wide range of diseases or major injuries.

Previous studies have suggested that moderate consumption of alcohol can protect against heart disease.

But this latest study suggests that any benefits only apply if people drink later in life.

Recommended daily limits for men
16 to 34: one unit
35 to 44: two units
45 to 54: three units
55 to 84: four units
85 plus: five units
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council analysed the drinking habits of men and women in England and Wales.

This information was obtained from the 1997 general household survey, in which respondents reported how much alcohol they consumed.

Recommended daily limits for women
16 to 44: one unit
45 to 74: two units
75 plus: three units
The researchers then estimated the relationship between alcohol and death in different age groups.

They found a direct link between the amount women between the ages of 16 and 54 drank and their risk of dying. The more they drank the greater their risks.

In men, there was a similar pattern for those between the ages of 16 and 34.

Age benefits

However, the study found that these risks reduced with age. They found that women over the age of 65 could drink up to three units of alcohol a week without increasing their risks of dying.

Similarly, men over the age of 65 could drink up to eight units a week without any noticeable effects.

But the researchers said their findings suggested that the recommended alcohol consumption for younger people should be reduced.

They recommend that for men, drinking should be limited to one unit a day up to the age of 34, two units a day up to 44, three units a day up to 84 and five units a day after that.

For women, they recommend one unit a day up to 44, two units a day up to 74 and three units a day after that.

Injury warning

However, the authors add that more should be done to encourage young people not to drink at all.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they said: "As most deaths attributable to alcohol at younger ages are due to injuries, a greater focus could be place on avoiding risky patterns of drinking rather than on reducing average alcohol consumption."

At the moment doctors suggest that men should drink less than 21 units a week while women should drink no more than 14 units.

A normal sized glass of wine or half a pint of regular strength beer contains one unit.

Previous studies have shown that drinking alcohol increase the risk of various cancers, liver disease and unintentional injuries.

See also:

01 Oct 02 | Health
16 Apr 02 | Health
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