Updated advice from the UK's chief medical officer said it is safest for men and women not to drink more than 14 units a week - equal to six pints of beer or six glasses of wine. United Kingdom has lower limits and same levels for both men and women.
Those involved with the study predict the findings won't be welcomed by Big Alcohol, which has been steadfastly pushing the health benefits of moderate drinking.
By contrast, alcohol consumption was associated with a somewhat lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks, they said - echoing previous research. "The lowest mortality we observed was in people who drank less than 10 standard drinks of alcohol a week", says Professor Bu Yeap, a health researcher at the University of WA and among the more than 100 global academics who co-authored the study.
Wood and her colleagues did not find an overall health benefit. It's also observational - it doesn't directly prove alcohol consumption increases the risk of early death.
The Government guidelines note that there is no "safe" amount of alcohol, with the more you drink increasing the risk to your health. The data show that the bad effects offset the good.
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"Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious, and potentially fatal, cardiovascular diseases". None had a known history of cardiovascular disease. The new study confirmed an association between drinking and cancers of the digestive system.
On average, each unit of alcohol consumed over the 100g threshold, slices about 15 minutes off a person's life - about the same as a cigarette, David Spiegelhalter, a professor in the "understanding of risk" at the University of Cambridge said in a comment on the report. "It's important for us to be able to advise people what level of consumption is safe". He explained that there is no set number below which risk is low. "The effects are influenced by a wide range of factors, like body weight and sex, medications, rate of consumption, so it's very hard to arrive at one single threshold below which everybody's going to be safe from harm". Indulging in 10 or more drinks above the limit was linked with between one and two years shorter life expectancy, while 18 drinks or more was linked with between four and five years shorter life expectancy.
These warnings should be heeded by physicians when talking to their patients about their drinking habits, said one of the study co-authors, Dan Blazer, professor of psychiatry emeritus at Duke University School of Medicine. However, drinking above this limit was linked with lower life expectancy.
The National Health and Medical Research Council is now undertaking a revision of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009.
He added that he would like to see the country embrace a public health messaging campaign focusing on the health dangers of excessive drinking.