Alcohol Harms Young People May Help Heart, Blood Sugar in Older People

We hear so many studies about how alcohol aids health that it’s easy to think it’s universally true. But, it isn’t the same at all stages of life. The younger you are, the less likely alcohol is to be beneficial.

Statistically speaking, according to a new study, no amount of alcohol should be considered healthy for people under the age of 40. The risk of death from road accidents, injuries or homicide increases substantially when drinking, so any benefit is far outweighed by the danger. For people over 40, without underlying health conditions, small amounts of alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and blood sugar concerns. But, it doesn’t aid any other aspect of health, according to the new study.

Those diseases just happen to be major causes of death in a good chunk of the world,” said senior author Emmanuela Gakidou, professor at the Univ. of Washington’s School of Medicine. “So when you look at the cumulative health impact, particularly among older adults, it shows that a small amount is actually better for you than no drinking. For all other causes, it’s harmful at all levels of consumption.”

Prof. Gakidou pointed out that studies usually stress the difference between how much men and women drink. This new study suggests we shouldn’t be so focused on gender but on age group. Additionally, as drinking may only help three aspects of health, no one should start drinking “for their health.” Young men drink in excess more than women. But, women are more sensitive to alcohol’s effects. Alcohol consumption puts women at a higher risk for brain damage than men and increases their risk of breast cancer.

The researchers looked at 30 years of information from people between the ages of 15 and 95 from 204 countries and territories. The data came from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study that tracks premature deaths from over 300 diseases and causes. They concluded that, in every region, alcohol provided no health benefits to the younger people but raised their risk of premature death.

While the study was looking at people from around the world, it is of particular interest to us here in the U.S. The percentage of people drinking harmful amounts of alcohol in the U.S. is beaten only by Australia and some countries in Western Europe.

Injuries and cancers make up a larger share than in other regions, so the safe amount of alcohol is relatively low,” lead author Dana Bryazka of the Univ. of Washington said. “A large proportion of the U.S. population consumes alcohol, and when they do, it is a lot.”

Prof. Gakidou said that “it’s not realistic to think young adults will stop drinking. Still, we think it’s important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health.”

A win would be if people understand the risks they are taking with their behavior, leading to a culture that promotes moderation in alcohol consumption,” Dr. Bryazka said.

Banner image: Paolo Bendandi via Unsplash

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