Health lobbyists have turned up the heat on Whitehall over drinking after new research suggested thousands of lives could be saved with stricter advice to consumers.

Doctors from Oxford University said guidelines “would need to be set at a much lower level than the current ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for public health”.

They recommended that consumers drink just half a unit a day on average – equivalent to a quarter of a pint of lager.

“A couple of pints or a couple of glasses of wine per day is not a healthy option,” said Dr Melanie Nichols, who headed up the research team.

“Although there is good evidence that moderate alcohol consumption protects against heart disease, when all of the chronic disease risks are balanced against each other, the optimal consumption level is much lower than many people believe.

“People who justify their drinking with the idea that it is good for heart disease should also consider how alcohol is increasing their risk of other chronic diseases.”

She added: “We are not telling people what to do. We are just giving them the best balanced information about the different health effects of alcohol consumption, so that they can make an informed decision about how much to drink.”