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New alcohol research is a timely reminder of our limits

Friday 1 June, 2012

A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) released yesterday is a timely reminder for Victorians of the health risks of alcohol overconsumption and the significant health gains that could be achieved by following the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for low risk drinking.

The BMJ study found cutting alcohol intake to just over half a unit (5g) could save 4,600 lives a year in England.

Sondra Davoren, Alcohol spokesperson at Cancer Council Victoria, said reducing consumption of alcohol could prevent a range of chronic illnesses.

"In 2008, alcohol misuse was responsible for 2.3 million deaths globally. More than half of these deaths were from non-communicable diseases* such as cardiovascular disease and cancers," said Ms Davoren.

In Australia there are more than 5000 cases of alcohol-related cancer diagnosed each year. Long-term excessive drinking is also associated with heart disease, stroke, blood pressure, heart failure, congenital heart disease, arrhythmias, shortness of breath, cardiac failure and other circulatory problems."

"The Journal article is basically highlighting the dose-dependent nature of alcohol - the more you drink, the greater the risk of alcohol-related illness.

"In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines state that to reduce lifetime health risks from drinking alcohol, healthy men and women should drink no more than two standard drinks on any day."

"If Victorians choose to drink, we recommend they stick to the guidelines, or ideally even less, as research by VicHealth and Deakin University has shown that if Australians reduced their yearly intake by about a third, we could avoid 380 alcohol-related deaths and 98,000 related illnesses each year."

Despite the well-documented scientific evidence, public awareness of the link between alcohol and certain chronic illnesses is not well known.

"There are a lot of myths around the benefits of alcohol, and these naturally are always more popular than the facts about the link to chronic disease," said Ms Davoren.

 * World Health Organization, Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010, WHO, 2011, Available from: