Beer (illustration)
Beer (illustration) Flash 90

The British government has revised its guidelines on alcohol consumption, in the biggest public health policy change in over 20 years, according to which even drinking a small amount of alcohol on a regular basis can cause cancer.

According to the updated guidelines, reported by Sky News on Friday, men are to cut their weekly consumption from 28 to 14 units, and women likewise are to drop from 21 to 14 units.

Fourteen units is the equivalent of around six pints of beer, or five 175 milliliter (just under six ounces) glasses of wine. A full bottle of wine holds 10 units, and a pint of beer equals 2.3 units.

"Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week, it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low," said England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.

The new recommendation states that new evidence shows drinking alcohol does not prevent heart disease as much as was thought. According to the statement, only women over 55 may see positive effects from small amounts of alcohol, while men have no benefit.

The health ministry said that alcohol consumption even at low levels can cause lip, oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus and breast cancers, while higher levels can lead to bowel and liver cancer.

Woman who regularly drink two units of alcohol a day have a 16% higher chance of getting breast cancer and dying from it according to the study, while those who drink five units a day have a 40% higher risk.

According to the study the rate of bowel cancer for men who do not drink alcohol stands at 64 in every 1,000, and drinking up to 14 units of alcohol a week does not influence that figure.

However, for men who drink 15 to 35 units a week the risk goes up to 85 in 1,000.

"These guidelines define 'low-risk' drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition," said Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

"So should we feel OK about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health," he said. "In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking."