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Taking days off from drinking helps the liver to recover

Most people are aware of the daily guidelines for safe drinking that have been released by the government. These may be misleading. Although drinking in moderation is important, the frequency of alcohol consumption is also vital.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) claims that government guidelines should be amended as they imply daily drinking is safe. UK doctors are now recommending that those who drink should allow two or three days per week in-between alcoholic drinks in order to give the liver the opportunity to repair itself.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry into the evidence base for alcohol advice has been presented with the findings of the RCP both orally and by way of written evidence this month. This July the Select Committee launched an inquiry to find out whether the evidence base and sources of scientific advice to Government on alcohol could be improved upon.

Government guidelines on drinking

Currently the advice is issued to the Government by its Chief Medical Officers and recommends that men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day. It does however say that even though the term 'regularly' is used as a precaution, individuals should allow 48 hours between drinking in order to allow their bodies time to recover. The RCP says that this does not go far enough and they believe that that this message implies that it is ok to drink every day or nearly every day. They disagree and state that the liver needs time to recover even from very small amounts of alcohol and that the risk of liver disease is much higher in those that drink alcohol every day compared to those who drink less often.

The RCP's special adviser on alcohol, Sir Ian Gilmore, recently wrote to the Daily Mail about the importance of limiting frequency as well as quantity. He said, "In addition to quantity, safe alcohol limits must also take into account frequency. There is an increased risk of liver disease for those who drink daily or near daily compared with those who drink periodically or intermittently."

The RCP has been quoted as saying they believe the government's guidelines could be improved to better reflect the evidence in a number of areas. Such as overall levels of consumption that are safe or within sensible limits, the balance of health benefits of alcohol consumption for heart disease against wider alcohol-related issues and frequency of alcohol consumption. They say that the current government guidelines imply that there is a low risk associated with daily drinking when clearly evidence can be shown that proves otherwise.

The letter from the RCP to the government concludes with: "The government guidelines should recognise that hazardous drinking has two components: frequency of drinking and amount of drinking. To ignore either of these components is scientifically unjustified. A very simple addition would remedy this problem namely a recommendation that to remain within safe limits of alcohol consumption that people have three alcohol-free days a week."

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