For those who haven’t quite mastered Dry January, some simple behavioural changes when you do drink booze could help you stay healthier in the long-run.
That’s according to a new study, which found that different patterns of alcohol consumption appear to be associated with a reduced risk of alcohol-related negative health outcomes.
The study from the University of Glasgow used data from over 309,000 people from the UK Biobank, excluding those who abstain from alcohol, infrequent consumers of alcohol, or those with past experience of certain health conditions.
They found three key behaviours when drinking booze were associated with a reduced risk of early death, as well as a reduced risk of cardiovascular events and liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
1. Drinking wine appears to be better for you than drinking spirits or beer
Reach for the vino and step away from the vodka. Participants who consumed predominantly spirits were found to have a “significantly higher risk” of early death, major cardiovascular events and liver cirrhosis when compared to predominantly red wine drinkers, the study found.
Beer and cider drinkers were also found to have a significantly higher risk of these health outcomes.
2. Drinking with food is better than boozing on an empty stomach
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach was associated with a 10% higher risk of early death and cardiovascular risk when compared to a similar amount of alcohol consumed with food.
3. Spreading your drinking over three to four days is better than drinking daily
Perhaps not a particularly surprising finding, but important nonetheless. The results showed spreading alcohol consumption over three to four days in a week was associated with a lower risk of early death, heart problems and cirrhosis than consuming alcohol daily.
It was also associated with lower mortality and cardiovascular risk than binge-drinking similar amounts of alcohol.
According to Drinkaware, if you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risk of long-term illness and injury. It recommends spreading your drinking evenly over three or more days.
Dr Bhautesh Jani, study author and clinical senior lecturer in General Practice at the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said: “In this study, we wanted to understand the relationship between different alcohol consumption patterns and health risks among those who consume alcohol regularly.
“More research is needed, however these findings are important as they may have implications for policy and could allow health professionals to give patients tailored advice on various ways they can reduce the harm of their alcohol consumption.”
Of the alcohol drinkers studied, less than half reported consuming the recommended amount for low-risk alcohol consumption. The UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) advise it’s safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis – around six pints of beer or six medium glasses of wine a week.
“It is important to reiterate what the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Chief Medical Officer has advised: that the amount of alcohol consumed should not exceed more than 14 units in a week on average,” says Dr Jani.
“Our study findings suggest that by spreading your alcohol over 3-4 days in a week, by drinking red or white wine and by drinking alcohol at mealtime or with food, you may be able to reduce the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.”