Currently, the "safe" drinking levels in the UK are three to four units of alcohol a day for men, or two to three for women. A small glass of wine contains 1.3 units, while a pint of beer contains at least two units.
But the new study, published in online journal BMJ Open, found that cutting alcohol intake to half a unit a day would avert 4,579 premature deaths in the UK each year.
Based on their study, the researchers now suggested that the ideal alcohol intake to prevent chronic disease is five grams a day -- or around half a unit that is less than half a small glass of wine and a quarter of a pint of beer, the Daily Mail reported.
For the study, a team from the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University analysed the death toll of 11 conditions linked to long-term alcohol consumption. They included heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy and five different cancers.
The team used data from large-scale studies on drinking and chronic disease risk, combined with estimates of weekly alcohol consumption among 15,000 adults in the UK. Just under a third of the adults were non-drinkers.
It was found that cutting alcohol intake to half a unit a day would avert 4,579 premature deaths in the UK a year, which amounts to three in 100 of all deaths from the 11 conditions studied, the researchers said.
Regarding the positive effects of alcohol on protecting against heart disease, the team pointed out that cutting consumption would lead to 843 extra deaths per year. But this would be offset by a reduction of deaths including more than 2,600 from cancers and almost 3,000 from liver cirrhosis, said Dr Melanie Nichols, who led the study.
"When all the chronic disease risks are balanced against each other, the optimal consumption level is much lower than many people believe," Nichols said. (More)