DRINKING more than five and a half glasses of wine or pints of beer per week reduces life expectancy, according to a new study.

Researchers found that even the UK’s current guideline weekly limit of 14 units is too much.

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The study published in the Lancet concluded that drinkers should not consume any more than 100g - or 12.5 units - of alcohol per week, despite health authorities in countries including the United States, Canada and Sweden advising that it is safe for men to consume nearly double that amount.

In Italy, Portugal and Spain, the guideline amounts are nearly 50 per cent higher.

The study of nearly 600,000 drinkers found that the risk of death from all causes increased as alcohol consumption climbed. Those consuming less than 100g of alcohol per week had the lowest mortality rates.

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The risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal high blood pressure, and a fatal aortic aneurysm - when one of the body's major blood vessels ruptures - decreased in line with reductions in alcohol consumption. However, the risk of non-fatal heart attacks was slightly reduced as alcohol consumption increased.

Professor Naveed Sattar, co-author of the study and an expert in cardiovascular science at Glasgow University, said: “This study provides clear evidence to support lowering the recommended limits of alcohol consumption in many countries around the world.”

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The results have been compiled by combing over the findings of 83 studies conducted in 19 high income countries worldwide. All participants had been recruited between 1964 and 2010 with a minimum 12 month follow-up, and none had a known history of cardiovascular disease.

Those drinking more than 350g of alcohol per week - equivalent to nearly 44 units or 19 pints of beer - had an estimated lower life expectancy at age 40 of four to five years compared to a drinker consuming less than 100g per week.

Likewise someone consuming 100-200g per week or 200-350g per week shaved an estimated six months or one to two years of their life expectancy.

Lead author Dr Angela Wood, of Cambridge University, said: “The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions.”

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The UK reduced its guideline limit to a "low risk" 14 units for both sexes in 2016, equivalent to six 175ml glasses of wine, six pints of beer or cider, or 14 single gin and tonics.

This was said to carry a less than a one per cent chance of death from an alcohol-related condition. Consuming two bacon sandwiches a week or sitting watching a hour of television per day is statistically more dangerous for long-term health.

A limit of 12.5 units would be five and a half glasses of wine or pints of beer.

Paul Waterson, spokesman for Scottish Licence Trade Association, said the idea of safe units was "fundamentally flawed" since the doctors who came up with the UK's original guidelines in 1987 have admitted that they were not at the time based on solid evidence.

He said: "They have admitted they plucked them out the air, but as the years go by they become the norm. The credibility of the health profession is at risk by further reducing them because we know that everybody's reaction to alcohol is different.

"Alcohol intake is under attack, it's moved on from smoking to alcohol and obesity, and we've really got to get some sense of perspective into this."

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