Just How Scientific Are The U.K.’s New Drinking Restrictions?

Senior Contributor
01.12.16 3 Comments
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The United Kingdom started off the new year with a major buzzkill, by changing their recommendations for alcohol consumption. The U.K.’s top medical authority is advising that men and women both have no more than 14 units of alcohol a week; that’s just six glasses of wine or five pints of 5% beer a week. But just how scientific are these standards?

We all know that drinking a lot isn’t healthy, but there are a lot of argument over what, precisely, constitutes “a lot.” Alcohol does have health benefits, and it’s mostly a question of where the line is between potential health benefits and possible damage. The U.K. is making news because their standards are now some of the strictest in the world, although they’re more generous to women than some countries.

And there are a few points of concern. Take, for example, this gem:

Regularly drinking two large glasses of wine (ABV 13%) or two pints of strong lager (ABV 5.2%) a day could make you three times as likely to get mouth cancer.

First of all, there’s that tricky “could,” there. That’s not something you want to see in a government recommendation. Secondly, mouth cancer is pretty hard to get. Then there’s this doozy:

Regularly drinking just above the guidelines increases the risk of getting breast cancer by around 20%

Where to start with this? The basic premise is true, at least according to the data we have so far, but the percentage ranges from 5% per drink a week to 7% a drink per week. There’s definitely a link, but it could be worse than we think or better than we think. Oh, and needless to say, the vast majority of women will never get breast cancer, so it’s kind of a moot point.

To be clear, we’re not for the idea you should get wasted every night. Don’t do that. If you do that, cut back, have a beer or two a night or less. That said, though, this has a lot of the same feel as when the WHO declared bacon would give you cancer, a claim it ultimately wound up having to walk back. There are excellent reasons to moderate your intake, and the NHS should really lean on those, instead.

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