Adults, both men and women, should not drink more than 100 grams of alcohol per week, according to an international study published in the Lancet medical journal on Thursday.
The study said those who consume more than that increase their risk of stroke and heart failure and can expect to die sooner than those who drink less.
The amount of alcohol in a standard drink varies from country to country. A standard drink in Germany contains between 10 and 12 grams of alcohol. In the UK, 100 grams is about six pints of beer a week. In the United States, that's about seven 12-ounce cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits.
The study's recommendations are significantly less than what many countries recommend as an alcohol consumption limit.
"Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are almost 50 percent higher than this, and in the USA, the upper limit for men is nearly double," the researchers found.
The US government currently recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, but twice that amount for men. Germany also has varying suggestions for limits on alcohol consumption: 12 grams of alcohol, about one drink, for women per day and twice as much for men.
Earlier studies had found women feel the effects of alcohol much quicker than men for numerous reasons, including the average man weighing more than the average women. The Lancet study, however, found no evidence to support different guidelines for women and men.
Canada and Sweden have similar guidelines as the United States, but some countries have much higher limits. For instance, Spain and Romania set the upper limit for men at the equivalent of 20 drinks each week.
Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, a group that partially funded the study, said in a statement that it "is a serious wake-up call for many countries."
Shaving off years
The international team of researchers analyzed nearly 600,000 people aged 30-100 from 19 different countries as part of 80 different studies. They recorded 40,310 deaths and 39,018 cardiovascular disease events among the group's members.
The study found that drinking between 100-200 grams of alcohol could decrease one's life expectancy by six months, 200-350 grams by two years and more than 350 grams by four years.
On average, each unit of alcohol that exceeds the 100-gram limit slices off 15 minutes of a person's life — about the same as a cigarette, said David Spiegelhalter, a professor at the University of Cambridge, in a comment on the report.
dv/sms (AFP, AP)