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Alcohol guidelines highlight the risk of cancer from high and regular consumption

Drinking any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers, new alcohol guidelines show.

The alcohol guidelines, produced by the UK Chief Medical Officers, say risks start from any level of regular drinking and increase with the amount being drunk.

This review also found that the benefits of alcohol for heart health only apply for women aged 55 and over.

The greatest benefit is seen when these women limit their intake to around 5 units a week, the equivalent of around 2 standard glasses of wine. The group concluded that there is no justification for drinking for health reasons.

Men should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the same level as for women. This equals 6 pints of average strength beer a week, which would mean a low risk of illnesses such as liver disease or cancer.

The previous guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women per week.

An additional recommendation is not to ‘save up’ the 14 units for 1 or 2 days, but to spread them over 3 or more days. People who have 1 or 2 heavy drinking sessions each week increase the risk of death from long term illnesses, accidents and injuries.

A good way to reduce alcohol intake is to have several alcohol free days a week.

The guidelines for pregnant women have also been updated to clarify that no level of alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy. The previous advice for pregnant women to limit themselves to no more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol once or twice per week has been removed to provide greater clarity as a precaution.

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.

“I want pregnant women to be very clear that they should avoid alcohol as a precaution. Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if they have drunk small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant.”

This new advice follows a detailed review of the scientific evidence used for the guidelines in 1995. This work has been underway since 2013, led by a panel of experts in public health, behavioural science and alcohol studies.

Guidelines chair Professor Mark Petticrew said: “This new guidance has been based on a wide range of new evidence from this country and overseas. 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.”

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