Half a unit of alcohol is all we should be drinking

Consuming half a unit of alcohol a day is enough, according to an Oxford University study.

Half a unit of alcohol is as little as a quarter of a glass of wine, much lower than current recommendations of between 3-4 units a day for men and 2-3 units for women (1-2 glasses per day).

Lead researcher Dr Melanie Nichols said:

Although there is good evidence that moderate alcohol consumption protects against heart disease, when all of the chronic disease risks are balanced against each other, the optimal consumption level is much lower than many people believe.

The researchers used information from the 2006 General Household Survey on levels of alcohol consumption among adults in England. They combined this with an analysis of research on disease risks for differing levels of alcohol consumption.

They assessed the impact changing average alcohol consumption would have on deaths from 11 conditions known to be at least partially linked to alcohol. These included coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, and five types of cancer. More than 170,000 people in the UK died from these 11 conditions in 2006.

The study found that just over half a unit of alcohol a day (about 5 ml) was the optimal consumption level among current drinkers.

The researchers calculate this level of drinking would prevent around 4,579 premature deaths. This equates to about 3% of all deaths from the 11 conditions. The number of deaths from heart disease would increase by 843, but would mean 2,600 fewer cancer-related deaths and almost 3,000 fewer liver cirrhosis-related deaths.

Dr Nichols added, “Moderating your alcohol consumption overall, and avoiding heavy-drinking episodes, is one of several things, alongside a healthy diet and regular physical activity, that you can do to reduce your risk of dying early of chronic diseases.

What does this mean for daily consumption?

You can measure a unit of alcohol by simply knowing the alcohol strength and glass size. A medium 175 ml glass of wine, for example, may contain around 2.4 units, whereas a larger (250 ml) glass can contain around 3.5 units.

An easy way to calculate a unit of alcohol such as wine is to take the percentage strength (ABV) and multiply by the volume in millilitres, then divide by 1,000, as follows:

%ABV x ml = X

X/1,000 = units.

So, for 175 ml of wine at 13% strength:

13 x 175 = 2,275

2,275/1,000 = 2.275 units.

Your standard bottle of wine (750 ml) at 13% concentration would thus contain approximately 10 units of alcohol.

The above article was adapted from an article sourced from Oxford University.

Last reviewed 03/Mar/2017

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