Health Update: New Guidelines on Drinking Alcohol


Below is a summary of the key points from an article in The Guardian this week on the new recommendations on drinking alcohol in England, which are now the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world.

‘For the first time since 1995, government recommendations on alcohol drinking have been updated.  The new guidelines advise consuming less per session, on fewer days per week, and less overall.  For men, the guidelines now bring the recommended limit per week in line for men and women at 14 units.

Scientific understanding of the effects of alcohol has advanced a great deal in the 20 years since the previous guidelines, the most up-to-date evidence suggesting that they both underestimated the harms and overestimated the benefits of drinking alcohol. In particular, the evidence that alcohol increases the risk of some cancers has grown stronger, while previous suggestions that small amounts of alcohol could be protective for the heart now seem less likely to be the case. The new guidelines point out that there’s no ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption, but that we encounter risks every day, and alcohol is just another of these.

Since 1995, a large amount of evidence has emerged suggesting that alcohol use causes various cancers. As a specific example, the risk of bowel cancer in men who do not drink is around 64 cases per 1000 men. This rate doesn’t increase for men who drink within the new recommended range (up to 14 units per week), but for those who drink more than 35 units a week it increases to around 115 cases per 1000 men. Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women at even lower levels of drinking. The risk in non-drinkers is around 109 cases per 1000 women. Even drinking within the new recommended limit increases the risk slightly (to around 126 women per 1000), but drinking more than 35 units nearly doubles the risk to 206 cases per 1000 women.

Vivian Maier

A figure of 14 units per week was settled upon by the scientists who helped develop these guidelines because this represents just under a 1% lifetime risk of death due to alcohol use (from any cause, not just due to cancer). How does this compare to other risks we expose ourselves to? It’s about equivalent to your lifetime risk of getting bowel cancer if you eat three rashers of bacon every day. It’s much lower than your risk of death if you’re a smoker, which current estimates put at greater than 1 in 2. Conversely, your lifetime risk of being killed in a car accident is 1 in around 230; less than half as likely as your risk of an alcohol related death if you drink within the new guidelines.

Are there any health benefits to drinking alcohol? The new guidelines do not rule out that women over 55 who drink a small amount could see benefits to their health.  This benefit is greatest for very low rates of alcohol consumption (around 1 unit per day, well under the 14 unit-per-week limit), and it certainly doesn’t negate the increased risk for cancers and liver disease that alcohol might cause.

So it seems our bodies would prefer us not to drink alcohol.  Cheers, bodies!

To close, here’s a classic drinking song from John Lee Hooker, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer…





The Importance of Good Sleeping Posture

Irving Penn

Everyone knows the importance of good posture, but this doesn’t apply just to sitting, standing and moving around. The muscles and ligaments of the body relax and heal themselves while we sleep.  Given that we spend a significant proportion of each day asleep – the average Briton sleeps for 7 hours and 22 minutes (according to recent data from the alarm clock app, Sleep Cycle) – good posture when sleeping has a key role to play in maintaining the health of the body.

Below are the six most common sleeping positions [click on images to make them larger]…

Most common sleep positions

To help you to visualise the six positions, here they are represented pictorially…

Six most common sleep positions

Which sleeping position is most like yours?

Professor Chris Idzikowski, one Britain’s leading sleep experts, has highlighted how each of the six sleeping positions impacts on our health…

The best and worst sleep positions

Whichever position you find yourself sleeping in, it’s important to keep the ears, shoulders and hips aligned as much as possible.  Here are a few tips to help achieve the best postural alignment when sleeping:

  • If you sleep on your back, a small pillow under the back of your knees will reduce stress on your spine and support the natural curve in your lower back. The pillow for your head should support your head, the natural curve of your neck, and your shoulders.
  • Sleeping on your stomach can create stress on the back because the spine can be put out of position. Placing a flat pillow under the stomach and pelvis area can help keep the spine in better alignment. If you sleep on your stomach, a pillow for your head should be flat, or sleep without a pillow.
  • If you sleep on your side, a firm pillow between your knees will prevent your upper leg from pulling your spine out of alignment and reduce stress on your hips and lower back. Pull your knees up slightly toward your chest. The pillow for your head should keep your spine straight. A rolled towel or small pillow under your waist may also help support your spine.
  • Insert pillows into gaps between your body and the mattress.
  • When turning in bed, remember not to twist or bend at the waist but to move your entire body as one unit. Keep your belly pulled in and tightened, and bend your knees toward the chest when you roll.
  • Keep your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned when turning as well as when sleeping.

Vivian Maier