The 'harmful use' of alcohol leads to about six deaths per minute, says new WHO report

A new report from the World Health Organization outlines some sobering statistics on the global toll of alcohol consumption.

The 'harmful use' of alcohol leads to about six deaths per minute, says new WHO report
Image: Pixabay Commons
  • The report indicates that the 'harmful use' of alcohol leads to about six deaths per minute.
  • Poorer countries tend to see higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and injuries.
  • The WHO suggests deaths can be prevented through policies that restrict pricing, marketing, consumption and other factors.

Alcohol is responsible for 5 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The report, which used global data for 2016, includes some sobering statistics. The 'harmful use' of alcohol leads to about 3 million deaths annually — about six every minute — and the vast majority of those deaths, 2.3 million, are suffered by men. Among people ages 20 to 39, alcohol is responsible for about 13.5 percent of all deaths.

The report also indicates:

  • There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioral disorders, other noncommunicable conditions as well as injuries.
  • The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.
  • The latest causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.
  • Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.
  • Globally, alcohol is linked to 7.7 percent of all deaths among men, but just 2.6 percent of all deaths among women.
  • Europe showed the highest levels of alcohol consumption, though Africa reported the highest levels of alcohol-related injuries and diseases.
  • Globally, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women have alcohol-use disorders, mostly in Europe (14.8 percent and 3.5 percent) and the Americas (11.5 percent and 5.1 percent).

Governments aren't implementing effective policies

WHO alcohol-control expert, Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, told The Guardian that the health burden of alcohol was "unacceptably large."

"Unfortunately, the implementation of the most effective policy options is lagging behind the magnitude of the problems," he said. "Governments need to do more to meet the global targets and to reduce the burden of alcohol on societies; this is clear, and this action is either absent or not sufficient in most of the countries of the world."

Although the levels of harm caused by alcohol largely depend on factors both individual (age, socioeconomic status, gender) and societal (culture, alcohol laws), the report suggests that governments can curb alcohol-related deaths and injuries by:

  • regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages (in particular to younger people)
  • regulating and restricting the availability of alcohol
  • enacting appropriate drink-driving policies
  • reducing demand through taxation and pricing mechanisms
  • raising awareness of public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol and ensuring support for effective alcohol policies
  • providing accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders, and
  • implementing screening and brief interventions programmes for hazardous and harmful drinking in health services.

"Now the task we share is to help countries put in place policies that make a real and measurable difference in people's lives," wrote Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO. "We have no time to waste; it is time to deliver on alcohol control."

The WHO report comes in the wake of a recent study, published by The Lancet, in August, that made headlines primarily for suggesting that the "safest level of drinking is none."

"Alcohol poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today. Our results indicate that alcohol use and its harmful effects on health could become a growing challenge as countries become more developed, and enacting or maintaining strong alcohol control policies will be vital," Emmanuela Gakidou, the report's senior author, told The Guardian.

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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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