(NEWSnet/AP) – Moderate drinking was once thought to have benefits for the heart, but newer research is disputing that assumption.

The United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Holland and Australia have lowered their alcohol consumption recommendations after recently reviewing new evidence. And Ireland will require cancer warning labels on alcohol starting in 2026.

“Drinking less is a great way to be healthier,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, who directs the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

“The scientific consensus has shifted due to the overwhelming evidence linking alcohol to over 200 health conditions, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases and injuries,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, regional adviser for alcohol at the World Health Organization regional office for Europe.

From Dry January to Sober October to bartenders getting creative with non-alcoholic cocktails, there's a cultural vibe that supports cutting back.

"People my age are way more accepting of it," said Tessa Weber, 28, of Austin, Texas. She stopped drinking for a Dry January campaign this year. She liked the results — better sleep, more energy — and has stuck with it.

There were studies, although imperfect, comparing groups of people by how much they drink. Usually, consumption was measured at one point in time. And none of the studies randomly assigned people to drink or not drink, so they couldn’t prove cause and effect on moderate drinking.

That being said: people who report drinking moderately tend to have higher levels of education, higher incomes and better access to health care, Naimi said.

“It turns out that when you adjust for those things, the benefits tend to disappear,” he said.

Another common research miss: Most studies didn’t include younger people. Almost half of the people who die from alcohol-related causes die before the age of 50.

“If you’re studying people who survived into middle age, didn’t quit drinking because of a problem and didn’t become a heavy drinker, that’s a very select group,” Naimi said. “It creates an appearance of a benefit for moderate drinkers that is actually a statistical illusion.”

Other studies compare people with a gene variant that makes it unpleasant to drink to people without the gene variant. People with the variant tend to drink very little or not at all. One of these studies found people with the gene variant have a lower risk of heart disease — another blow to the idea that alcohol protects people from heart problems.

Thousands of U.S. deaths per year could be prevented if people followed the government’s dietary guidelines, which advise men to limit themselves to two drinks or fewer per day and women to one drink or fewer per day, Naimi said.

One drink is the equivalent of about one 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a shot of liquor.

Naimi served on an advisory committee that even wanted to lower the recommendation for men to one drink per day. That advice was ignored when the federal recommendations came out in 2020.

“The simple message that’s best supported by the evidence is that, if you drink, less is better when it comes to health,” Naimi said.

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