Alcohol: UK imposes tough new guidelines

Story highlights

  • UK announces stiff new advice on drinking alcohol
  • Men see biggest reduction in recommended upper limit of alcohol per week to 14 units
  • UK joins Australia in having parity for men and women in guidelines

London (CNN)If you feel like you had one too many drinks over the winter holiday season -- you probably did. At least, if tough new guidelines on drinking just announced by the UK's chief medical officers are anything to go by.

Perhaps timing the announcement to coincide with many Britons' January health kick, the new guidelines suggest that both men and women should regularly drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
    That's the equivalent of six small glasses of wine or five pints of beer at 5% ABV strength. Pregnant women should not drink at all.
    Guidelines in the U.S. recommend that women should not exceed one standard drink per day and men should no more than two. That equates to 12 units a week for women and just over 24 for men.
    Most worryingly, perhaps, the new UK advice suggests that there is no safe level of drinking -- and any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer, according to new research.
    The new health rules also say that you shouldn't save up your weekly units and indulge in heavy drinking sessions; instead distribute them evenly throughout the week and aim for a few alcohol-free days a week.
    Bad news too for those who imbibe a few glasses of red to keep their hearts healthy.
    The benefits are fewer and apply to a smaller group of people than previously thought -- in the UK, women over the age of 55 are the only group in which it has the potential to significantly reduce risk of death.

    A big change for men

    This is the first full update of UK advice on drinking since 1995 -- and medical chiefs say they looked at evidence from all over the world to come up with them.
    One major difference is the change from daily to weekly recommended units -- which they say is to make the guidelines easier to follow for the majority of the population who do not drink regularly.
    But it is men who will likely notice the biggest changes.
    Previously, daily drinking limits for men were three to four units -- between 21 and 24 units per week. The new guidelines bring men's upper limit down to 14 units per week, in response to the latest research, which suggests that the overall health risks for men and women are the same.
    Imposing this new guideline means the UK now has one of the lowest suggested upper limits for men in the world.
    It also joins Australia in being one of the few countries to suggest the same limit for both men and women.