Research indicates that light-to-moderate drinkers have a lower risk of death than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers. The safest level of alcohol intake for men and women, however, remains unclear.
To help determine this safest level, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 34 prospective studies on alcohol and all-cause mortality. Of these studies, 29 reported adjustment for potential confounders and included a total of 285,490 women and 622,692 men (13,448 and 73,493, respectively, died during follow-up).
Drinking up to 3 drinks per day for men (based on 12-14g alcohol in a standard drink) and up to 1.5 drinks per day for women decreased the risk of death. For both men and women, risk was lowest at 0.5 drinks per day (relative risks, 0.8 for both versus nondrinkers).
This very large meta-analysis confirms the J-shaped relationship between alcohol use and death. The amount associated with the lowest risk in this study (0.5 drinks per day) is lower than that reported for men in previous research. In addition, the upper limits associated with a protective effect exceed US recommendations for low-risk drinking for men and women. Overall, the available research supports the beneficial effect of low levels of alcohol use on mortality.
Sources: Di Castelnuovo A, Costanza S, Bagnardi V, et al. Alcohol dosing and total mortality in men and women: an updated meta-analysis of 34 prospective studies. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(22):24372445.