Picture: EPA

For those who like to relax with an occasional glass of wine, it’s good news – drinking in moderation may help you to live longer.

Researchers found that people who have one 175ml glass of wine a day are less likely to die early or develop cancer than both heavy drinkers and teetotallers.

But having a couple more than one can increase your chances of both by a fifth, they warned.

Evidence suggests low amounts of alcohol have a protective effect on the heart, cutting the chances of heart attack and stroke. Those who drink in moderation are also more likely to be wealthy and have healthier lifestyles overall, experts suggest.

Study leader Dr Andrew Kunzmann, from Queens University in Belfast, said: ‘We found lighter drinkers – who drink less than seven drinks a week – have the lowest combined risk of cancer and death.

‘The risk increases for every extra drink per week after that. If you stick to less than seven drinks a week, you might have a lower risk of developing these major health conditions.’ Researchers wanted to analyse the effects of different levels of drinking on cancer and overall mortality. They tracked almost 100,000 adults, aged 55 to 74, in the US over nine years.

They found that those who enjoy the equivalent of about six small glasses of wine a week – in line with UK guidelines of 14 units – had the lowest chances of developing cancer or dying. People who never drink were 7 per cent more likely to die or develop cancer, they found. Those who exceeded the recommended levels found their risks increased the more alcohol they consumed.

Heavy drinkers, defined as having between two and three drinks a day, upped their risk of dying or developing cancer by 10 per cent, compared to moderate drinkers. This risk increased to more than a fifth for those consuming three or more alcoholic drinks a day.

The chances of developing some cancers increased with every additional drink a week, they found.

Dr Kunzmann said he hoped the findings, which were published in PLOS Medicine, will provide more certainty over what people class as moderate drinking. ‘Very often in the past, people thought that moderation was less than two drinks every day, whereas actually it’s much lighter,’ he said.

‘What this suggests is that moderation is actually less than seven drinks a week.’

Fiona Osgun, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Alcohol causes seven different types of cancer, so while you might not want to go teetotal, it is a good idea to cut down on how much alcohol you drink to lower your risk.’