More than 6 drinks a week leads to higher health risks, new report suggests — especially for women | CBC News (2023)

Having more than six drinks per week leads to an increased risk of a host of health issues, including cancer, according to new proposedguidelines published Monday.

Any level of alcohol consumption had a net negative impact on health for almost every disease reviewed bythe Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), a national advisory organization, according to their new report. This includes heart disease, several types of cancer and liver cirrhosis.

The health risks become"increasingly high" when someone has six or more drinks per week. And for women who have three or more drinks per week, the risk of health issuesincreases more steeply compared to men, research shows.

"The key message out of this project is that when it comes to alcohol, less is better. Everyone should try to reduce their alcohol use," saidCatherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at CCSA and co-chair ofCanada's Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

WATCH | New alcohol guidelines suggest no amount is safe:

New proposed guidelines from the organization that advises the Canadian government on alcohol consumption dramatically reduce what's considered low-risk drinking, suggesting no amount of alcohol is safe.

It's no secret that alcohol is not good for you, experts say. It's been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans) for decades by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

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But not everyone is aware that alcohol use has been associated with numerous health risks, including at least seven types of cancer, Paradissaid.

That's why the guidelines —which the public can weigh in on—speak to the health risks and how that increases with the number of drinks.

Dr. FawaadIqbal, a radiation oncologist at Durham Regional Cancer Centre in Oshawa, Ont.,who was not involved with the report, saidhe strongly supports itsoverall messaging.

"These updated, evidence-based guidelines will save lives. I commend the work of the team that put this all together," said Iqbal in an email interview after the report was released.

WATCH | Why don't most Canadians know about alcohol's cancer risks?

More than 6 drinks a week leads to higher health risks, new report suggests — especially for women | CBC News (2)

(Video) More than 6 drinks a week cause higher health risks, new reports suggest - especially for women
Alcohol is one of the top three causes of preventable cancer, so why aren’t Canadians being informed about the risks? Health experts say it's time to put warning labels on alcohol — something the industry has pushed back against.

'People in Canada have a right to know'

But experts say the risks associated with alcohol consumption need to be made more clear beyond these recommendations. Iqbal and those who worked onCCSA's guidelineswant to see cancer warnings and the number of standard drinks listed on alcohol bottles or cans.

"Whether consumers choose to use that information or not, it's up to them. But there's plenty of evidence out there that says if you say front and centre, 'this is damagingyour health and you could get cancer because of this,' people will change their decision-making about just how much they're drinking," Iqbal said.

Since the last alcohol drinking guidelines were released in 2011, the evidence around health issues and alcohol consumption has changed a lot, Paradis says. That's whyfour committees—includingthree scientific expert panels—were formed to review the evidence for updating the guidelines.

Those involvedlooked at several dozenstudies on alcohol and health issues as part of the new guidelines. Several data sources —including death and disability data for 2017 to 2019 from Statistics Canada—were used to form the risk calculations. They also used mathematical modelling, according to the report.

Although all levels of alcohol consumption come with some risks, their report showsa range of risks depending on how many glasses of wine or bottles of beer a healthy person has each week.

They found that health risks are negligible or low with two or fewer glasses of wine per week. If the number of drinks goes up to somewhere between three and six standard drinks a week, the risk of health issues is moderate.

(Video) New report suggests limiting alcohol to 2 drinks per week due to potential health risks

But having more than six glasses of wine or ciders per week makes the risk of health issues "increasingly high."

For example, men who consumeabout five grams of alcohol per day on average have almost a 16 per cent increased risk of livercirrhosis. That risk balloons to more than 306 per cent if the man has 50 grams of alcohol per day, according to the report.

"We know that's going to be surprising and some people might even be upset about that. But we did not embark on this project to win a popularity contest. We'rescientists," saidParadis.

"Our whole perspective throughout this project is that people in Canada have a right to know."

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Drinking increases breast cancer risk

The new findings are significantly different from the 2011 guidelines created by CCSA. Those suggested no more than 10 standard drinks a week for women and 15 standard drinks a week for men.

Paradis says one of the reasonsthe 2011 recommendations were higher was because of a belief that alcohol had some good health benefits for cardiovascular disease. But now, new research shows that is probably not the case anymore, she said.

"Actually, in our own study, we found that alcohol was neither good or bad at low levels for protection against some cardiovascular diseases. At higher levels, it really has a detrimental impact," she said.

Alcohol use in Canadacauses nearly 7,000 cases of cancer deaths each year in Canada, according to the report.

More than 6 drinks a week leads to higher health risks, new report suggests — especially for women | CBC News (3)

And specifically for women, having three or more drinks a week comes with a greater risk of health issues when compared to men, according to the report's data.They include several reasons why, including differences in metabolism.

The risk of breast cancer increased with more alcohol, Paradis said, adding thatonein 35 women will die because of breast cancer in Canada.

"If you take six drinks per week, you increase by 10 per cent your chances of being that woman," she said, adding that the risk starts at one or two standard drinks per week.

(Video) New alcohol guidelines suggest there’s no safe amount

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Allison Garber, a communications business owner in Halifax and mental health and addictions awareness advocate, said she wishes she knew more about the increased cancer risk sooner.Both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer, and she lost her mother to cancer.

"I think that this report is going to save a lot of lives," she said, adding it's good to see an increased focus on education.

"I do believe that it's an individual choice whether people drink alcohol or not, but I I do think that it's fundamentally important that that is an informed choice."

Label the health risks

Some Canadians have reported increased binge drinking over the last few years.

A Statistics Canada survey released in 2021 shows many Canadians are not just pouring themselves a single glass. Almost one in five who responded to the survey said they consumed five or more drinks — the equivalent of a bottle of wine — on the days they reported drinking alcohol in the previous month.

The agency says this is higher than before COVID-19 hit.

More than 6 drinks a week leads to higher health risks, new report suggests — especially for women | CBC News (4)

The CCSA report was started before the pandemic, but Paradis says adults need to know more about the alcohol they purchase and how it can affect their health.

Paradis and the other authors of the report, along with Iqbal, say bottles of wine and other alcohol should clearly outline the health warnings and nutrition information.She adds thatpeople need to be able to count their drinks to know how much alcohol they're consuming, but can't do that if it's not explicitly outlined on a label.

"The main message that we want to put out with this is that overall, alcohol is not good for your health and that when it comes to alcohol, drinking less is better," Paradis said.

The guidelines will likely become official guidance sometime this fall.


Is 6 drinks a week too much? ›

NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows: For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.

How many drinks per week is safe for women? ›

The NIAAA weekly volume guideline is not to exceed 14 drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women. (Daily guideline is no more than 4 drinks in any day for men, and 3 drinks in any day for women.) Refer to the U.S. low-risk drinking guidelines.

How many drinks are safe for women? ›

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.

How many drinks a week indicates at risk drinking? ›

Binge drinking: consuming 5 or more drinks for men or 4 or more drinks for women, per occasion. Heavy drinking: consuming 15 or more drinks per week for men or 8 or more drinks per week for women. Any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than the minimum legal drinking age of 21.

What is considered heavy drinking for a woman? ›

What do you mean by heavy drinking? For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

Is 2 bottles of wine a week too much for a woman? ›

The safe limit for women is: 2-3 units a day or approximately 21 units a week. This is the equivalent of two bottles of wine a week.

What can I drink instead of alcohol? ›

What to drink instead of alcohol
  • Soda and fresh lime. Proof that simple is still the best.
  • Berries in iced water. This summery drink will keep you refreshed and revitalised.
  • Kombucha. ...
  • Virgin bloody Mary. ...
  • Virgin Mojito. ...
  • Half soda/half cranberry juice and muddled lime. ...
  • Soda and fresh fruit. ...
  • Mocktails.

What happens if you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Long-Term Health Risks. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

Why do I drink alcohol every night? ›

If you feel that you need a drink every night or to get through a social event, stressful situation or personal struggle, and you have a compulsion to drink or constantly crave alcohol, maybe even daily, this could be a sign of psychological dependency.

Which alcohol is best for heart? ›

Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks.

What is the healthiest alcohol? ›

Red Wine. Red wine is widely recognized as one of the healthiest alcoholic drinks out there. Poon notes that it's "relatively low in calories and also offers some health benefits."9 She adds that red wine is rich in antioxidants such as resveratrol and proanthocyanidins and can promote cardiovascular health.

Can you drink wine every night? ›

So, can you keep drinking a daily glass of wine? The simple answer: yes! The not-so-simple answer: it's ultimately up to you. Research still supports the idea that light to moderate amounts of red wine (one glass per night) have mostly beneficial or neutral effects on our health.

How much alcohol is OK for your liver? ›

Women with a healthy liver should not drink more than 1 alcoholic beverage a day (or 7 drinks in 1 week). Men with a healthy liver should not drink more than 2 drinks a day (or 14 drinks in 1 week).

What happens to your body when you stop drinking? ›

Withdrawal symptoms can include sweating, tremors, sleep problems, rapid heartbeat, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, anxiety, restlessness, and possibly even seizures.

How fast can you damage your liver from drinking? ›

Alcohol consumed during just seven weeks of intermittent binge drinking harms the liver in ways that more moderate daily drinking does not, according to researchers at UC San Francisco. The scientists discovered that just 21 binge drinking sessions in mice were enough to cause symptoms of early-stage liver disease.

Is it OK to drink 6 beers once a week? ›

The standard medical advice for moderate drinking in men is a maximum of three drinks in one day and a maximum of 15 drinks in a week. For women, it's a maximum of two drinks in one day and a maximum of 10 drinks per week.

How many drinks does the average person have a week? ›

You could take the straight-up national average of 556 drinks per year – which comes out to about 10 or 11 drinks per week. This number can be a little misleading, though; such is the nature of averages. Interestingly enough, thirty percent of American adults don't drink at all.

How long do you have to drink before liver damage? ›

Alcohol Related Cirrhosis: The most serious form of ALD, it occurs when the entire liver is scarred, causing the liver to shrink and harden. This can lead to liver failure. Usually the damage cannot be reversed. Between 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis typically after 10 or more years of drinking.

How much alcohol is OK for your liver? ›

Women with a healthy liver should not drink more than 1 alcoholic beverage a day (or 7 drinks in 1 week). Men with a healthy liver should not drink more than 2 drinks a day (or 14 drinks in 1 week).


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