Just half a glass of wine or one small bottle of beer a day can lead to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, warns new research.
The risk of metabolic syndrome – a combination of the three life-threatening conditions – rises in tandem with alcohol consumption.
A study of almost 27 million adults adds to growing evidence there is no safe level of drinking and may lead to a rethink on official advice.
Lead author Dr Hye Jung Shin, of the National Medical Centre in Seoul, South Korea, said: “Even light alcohol intake is linked to metabolic syndrome.”
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and obesity. It puts people at greater risk of getting coronary heart disease, stroke and other conditions that affect the blood vessels.
Men who downed an average of half a glass of wine or a quarter pint of beer daily, on average, were 10 per cent more prone to obesity – and metabolic syndrome.
One to two glasses of wine, or up to a pint of beer, was associated with 22 and 25 per cent greater odds, respectively – rising to 34 and 42 per cent beyond this level.
This was compared to those who never drank. Similar trends were identified in women – although the odd tipple was protective against metabolic syndrome.
Half a glass of wine a day raised the risk of obesity by nine per cent – but reduced the odds of metabolic syndrome by three percent – compared to non-drinkers.
Women who supped on average more than two glasses were 22 and 18 percent more likely to develop obesity and metabolic syndrome, respectively.
Dr Shin said: “Consuming more than half a standard alcoholic drink a day is associated with an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome in both men and women – and the risk rises in proportion with alcohol intake.”
The study, presented at the virtual European and International Congress on Obesity, was based on over 14 million men and 12 million women in South Korea.
Other factors were taken into account including participants’ age, exercise levels, smoking history and income.
In the UK, men and women are women advised not to exceed 14 units of alcohol a week – equal to around six pints of beer or six glasses of wine.
Dr Shin said: “There was a significant correlation between alcohol consumption and obesity after adjusting for age, exercise, smoking and income in this population – as well as between alcohol consumption and metabolic syndrome.
“Both men and women who consumed a higher quantity of alcohol had higher odds for obesity. The same results are observed for metabolic syndrome.”
He added: “Our results suggest the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome increases in proportion to alcohol consumption when male and female adults drink more than half a standard drink per day.”
Some experts say a small amount of alcohol fuels antioxidants that destroy free radicals – harmful chemicals that can lead to potentially fatal illnesses. However, two years a global study of 28 million people found going teetotal was more protective.