Food & Beverage

Drinkers told: ANY amount of alcohol harmful

Anmar Frangoul and Luke Graham | Special to
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For many of us, Friday evening means unwinding after a hard week's work with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer. Yet updated guidelines from the U.K.'s Department of Health warn drinkers that consuming any amount of alcohol increases the risk to your health -- including the chance of you getting cancer.

Under the new Department of Health guidelines, the first update in 20 years, male drinkers have seen their weekly alcohol allowance cut to 14 units – the equivalent of six pints of "average strength" beer – a week, the same as women. The previous advice for men was to drink 21 units a week.

If the new guidelines are followed, then the risk of developing an illness such as liver disease or cancer would be low, the health experts behind the new limits say.

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"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," Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said in a statement.

Another piece of advice is for drinkers to spread their alcohol consumption over three or more days rather than save their units up for just one or two days in the week, which authorities say can increase the risk of death from accidents, injuries and long-term illnesses.

Friday and Saturday nights in many U.K. town centres are infamous for rowdy, drunken behaviour.

Pregnant women have also been told to cut out all drinking. "I want pregnant women to be very clear that they should avoid alcohol as a precaution," Davies added.

"Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if they have drunk small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no 'safe' level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant," she said.

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, pubs and beer contribute £22 billion ($32.09 billion) to the U.K.'s economy, generating £13 billion in tax revenue.

Commenting on the new advice, the BBPA's chief executive said that it was important for consumers to have confidence in guidelines and that the, "reasons for any changes are clearly evidence-based and explained."

"Reducing the guidelines means that a whole new group of males are classified as 'at risk' drinkers and there is a real danger that consumers will just ignore the advice," Brigid Simmonds said in a statement.

"The new recommendations for men, in particular, put the UK well out of line with other comparable countries," she added.

"The USA has 24.5 units. France 26, Italy 31.5, and Spain 35 units. In other countries, most guidelines recognize the difference in terms of physiology and metabolism between men and women."

The U.K. is also home to a burgeoning craft beer sector, however the industry expects little impact on sales.

"I honestly don't think they'll be affected," Sarah Warman, head of marketing at BrewDog, an independent craft beer brewery based in Scotland, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"With more people drinking more craft beer, they drink it because they are interested in what it tastes like, not for the purpose of getting drunk," she added.