Health Matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
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AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, looks at advice for drinking safely.

Safer drinking has been put firmly back into the spotlight recently with MPs advising that everybody should take at least two alcohol-free days a week.

The House of Commons science and technology committee says more help is needed so that drinkers understand what a unit of alcohol actually looks like, so they can have an idea of how many units they are drinking in a pint of beer, glass of wine or shot of vodka.

In 1987, when alcohol guidance was published, it was set out as a maximum advised number of units per week, which was 21 for men and 14 for women.

However, studies published in the early 1990s suggested a small amount of alcohol might be good for the heart. This, says the committee, led to a reframing of the guidance as a daily intake: no more than three to four units a day for men and two to three for women. Those who drink the maximum every day are therefore well above the earlier limits.

Alcohol’s hidden harms usually only emerge after a number of years. And by then, serious health problems can have developed.

Liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers and heart attack are some of the numerous harmful effects of regularly drinking above recommended levels.

The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The more you drink, the greater the health risks.

Lower-risk drinking means that you have a low risk of causing yourself future harm. However, drinking consistently within these limits is called ‘lower-risk’, rather than ‘safe’, because drinking alcohol is never completely safe.

NHS recommendations for lower risk drinking state that:

* men should not exceed 3-4 units a day on a regular basis

* women should not exceed 2-3 units a day on a regular basis

Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol. When you drink, alcohol reaches your baby through the placenta. Too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect your baby’s development. If you choose to drink, do not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week, and do not get drunk. This will minimise the risk to the baby.

Safer drinking is something we all need to put into practice. Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren’t alcoholics. They’re simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years.

There’s no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below recommended daily limits, the risks of harming your health are low.

If you are concerned about your drinking you can discuss it with your GP. For further information visit www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol.