If you're one of the third of all humankind who drinks alcohol, take note: There's no amount of liquor, wine or beer that is safe for your overall health, according to a new analysis of 2016 global alcohol consumption and disease risk.
Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the study, published Thursday in the journal The Lancet.
For all ages, alcohol was associated with 2.8 million deaths that year.
Those deaths include alcohol-related cancer and cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, intentional injury such as violence and self-harm, and traffic accidents and other unintentional injuries such as drowning and fires.
"The most surprising finding was that even small amounts of alcohol use contribute to health loss globally," said senior study author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. "We're used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence."
Not surprisingly due to their populations, China, India and Russia led the world in alcohol-related deaths in men and women. The US ranked fifth among men and seventh among women on that list; the UK ranked 21st for men and ninth for women.
"This study is a stark reminder of the real, and potentially lethal, dangers that too much alcohol can have on our health and that even the lowest levels of alcohol intake increase our risks," Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in the UK, said in a statement. She was not involved in the study.
However, countered David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, "Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no 'safe' level does not seem an argument for abstention.
"There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving," Spiegelhalter, who also was not involved in the research, said in a statement. "Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention."
The Lancet study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease report, which captured information on premature death and disability from over 300 diseases by sex and age in 195 countries or territories between 1990 and 2016.
Researchers analyzed the impact of alcohol on 23 health conditions and alcohol-related risks on people between the ages of 15 and approximately 95 for the year 2016.
Drinking under the age of 15, a growing problem in the US and other countries, was not included.
For purposes of the study, a standard alcoholic drink was defined as 10 grams or approximately 12 milliliters of alcohol. That measurement varies around the world; for example, a standard drink is 8 grams in the UK and 14 grams in US. It's even higher in Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Over 1,300 studies on alcohol use by country and the accompanying disease burden, measured by both deaths and disability-adjusted life years, were analyzed by the Global Burden of Disease collaborators.
For the first time, Gakidou said, in an attempt to improve on previous research, the new analysis adjusted for the impact of tourism on local statistics in liquor sales and attempted to control for unrecorded drinking, such as home brewing or illicit trade. Another improvement over past studies, she said, was a new meta-analysis of the effects of alcohol on the 23 health outcomes, which was then used to access risk.
In independent comments published alongside the study, King's College London alcohol researcher Robyn Burton called the study "state-of-the-art."
"The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue," Burton wrote, suggesting that policy makers put a priority on programs that focus on decreasing alcohol consumption.
However, the Alcohol Information Partnership, a group comprising eight of the world's biggest liquor companies, said in a statement that "Nothing in this study challenges the array of studies suggesting that choosing to drink moderately is associated with a decreased risk of some health issues and a lower risk of death. We advocate sensible drinking by those who choose to drink and support consistent, evidence-based advice, which enables people to make their own informed choices about alcohol."