April 13 (UPI) -- If you drink one alcoholic beverage each day, it could shorten your life expectancy by about one year, a new study suggests.
Researchers in Britain, examining the drinking habits of 599,912 drinkers in 19 countries worldwide from 1964 to 2010, found that drinking more alcohol is associated with a higher risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death. Their findings were published Thursday in the journal Lancet.
In the United States, one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men is the recommended level, according to the government's Dietary Guidelines of for Americans. In Britain, recommended limits are about eight drinks per week for men and women, and spread over three or more days. Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal and Spain are almost 50 percent higher than British guidelines.
Researchers found that drinking 100 to 200 grams per week -- fewer than two drinks -- was estimated to shorten the life span of a 40-year-old by six months.
Ten or more drinks per week was linked with 1-2 years shorter life expectancy and 18 drinks or more was associated 4-5 years shorter life expectancy.
Looked at another way, one glass of wine or pint of beer over the limit of two per week will take about 15 minutes off a person's life.
"This is a serious wakeup call for many countries," Dr. Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part funded the study, said in a Lancet news release.
The data was derived from Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration, EPIC-CVD and the United Kingdom Biobank. Among the nearly 600,000 studied, there were 40,310 deaths and 39,018 cardiovascular-disease incidents in at least 12 months of follow-up work.
"The key message of this research is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions," lead author Dr. Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, said. "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."
Age, sex, diabetes status, smoking habits and other factors relating to cardiovascular disease were also analyzed.
Dr. Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, noted smokers lose on average 10 years of life.
"However, we think from previous evidence that it is likely that people drinking a lot more than 43 units are likely to lose even more life expectancy, and I would not be surprised if the heaviest drinkers lost as many years of life as a smoker," Chico told The Guardian.
The varying risk of different forms of cardiovascular disease could be linked to the impact alcohol has on blood pressure and other facts linked to levels of HDL -- or "good" -- cholesterol.
"This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes," co-author Dr. Dan G. Blazer of Duke University said.