What is a standard drink?
The researchers examined alcohol's impact on causes of death related to cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease and fatal aortic aneurysm.
"This study provides clear evidence to support lowering the recommended limits of alcohol consumption in many countries around the world", co-author Professor Edoardo Casiglia said in the conclusion of the report.
"Many people in the United Kingdom regularly drink over what's recommended" she said.
In comparison to those who reported drinking less than 10 standard drinks (or five pints) a week, those who said they consumed between 10 and 20 per week, 20 and 35 per week, or more than 35 per week had an estimated lower life expectancy at the age of 40 of approximately six months, between one and two years and, four to five years, respectively. So the researchers, led by Cambridge University's Dr. Angela Wood, used only information about people who were current drinkers "because ex-drinkers include people who might have abstained from alcohol owing to poor health itself, as well as those who have changed their habits to achieve a healthier lifestyle", they wrote. But in the US, 100 grams is equivalent to what's in seven 12-ounces cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits.
Recommended limits in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are almost 50% higher than this, and in the US the upper limit for men is nearly double this.
Dr Dan G Blazer, co-author, at Duke University in the U.S., says doctors and other healthcare professionals must transmit this message to their patients.
"These recommended drinking levels will no doubt be described as implausible and impracticable by the alcohol industry and other opponents of public health warnings on alcohol".
Thresholds for safer alcohol use might need lowering, University of Queensland drug and alcohol experts have cautioned.
"Nonetheless, the findings ought to be widely disseminated and they should provoke informed public and professional debate".
"What it shows is that the amount of alcohol consumed affects the risk of dying", says Yeap. However, risk of non-fatal heart attacks dipped with more alcohol.
The new study estimates that 40-year-old men who drink as much as the current US guidelines allow can expect to live one to two years less than men who have no more than seven drinks per week. In that part of the research, 21 study participants at the Medical University of Graz in Austria were randomly assigned to drink either a mixture of alcohol and juice, or juice alone.
"Until then, the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines remain NHMRC's current advice".