Moderate Alcohol May Not Benefit Heart Health After All

Moderate Alcohol May Not Benefit Heart Health After All

Previous observational studies have shown that heavy drinking is detrimental to your cardiovascular system but light to moderate alcohol consumption (0.6-0.8 fluid ounces per day) is good for your heart. Like some people, you may have followed that suggestion, believing it would lower your heart-disease risk. But new research challenges the widely held belief that moderate drinking has a protective effect on cardiovascular health. The large-scale, gene-focused review found that cutting down on drinking is a heart-healthy practice.

Comprehensive Analysis Changes Drinking Recommendation

The British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council funded an international collaboration that included 155 investigators from the UK, North America, continental Europe and Australia. These researchers used an investigative approach similar to a randomized clinical trial to analyze over 50 multi-center studies that examined drinking habits and heart health in over 260,000 subjects.

People with a genetic variant of the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B gene that causes abnormally rapid alcohol breakdown with nausea and facial flushing drank less over time and had healthier hearts. By using this genetic marker as an indicator of lower alcohol consumption, the researchers identified a connection between these subjects and superior cardiovascular health. On average, consuming 17 percent less alcohol per week lowered heart disease risk by 10 percent. It also decreased blood pressure and body-mass index (a body fat estimate based on height and weight). The results demonstrate that cutting alcohol intake — even for light to moderate drinkers — improves heart health.

“These new results are critically important to our understanding of how alcohol affects heart disease,” said co-lead author Michael Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., Transplant Surgery department research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Based on the new findings, he concludes that any alcohol consumption impacts heart health negatively.

Senior study author Juan Casas, epidemiology professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, notes that some prior studies indicating health benefits from light to moderate drinking contained limitations that may have affected the validity of their findings. “In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker,” he said.

Other Experts Review Study Results

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, noted that the study showed an association between drinking and heart health but didn’t prove cause and effect. She recommends viewing these results with a critical eye because many earlier trials found that the antioxidant polyphenols in red wine have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease.

“Studies into alcohol consumption are fraught with difficulty, in part because they rely on people giving accurate accounts of their drinking habits,” said Dr. Shannon Amoils, senior research advisor at the British Heart Foundation. “Here, the researchers used a clever study design to get around this problem by including people who had a gene that predisposes them to drink less. The results reinforce the view that small to moderate amounts of alcohol may not be healthy for the heart.”

Other Experts Review Study Results

Embrace Healthy Habits to Protect Your Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death with unchangeable risk factors including family history, gender and age. But according to the Mayo Clinic, these healthy practices promote prevention.

Get off that tobacco

Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, narrow your arteries and lead to heart attacks. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. When you quit smoking, your risk drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about five years.

Exercise regularly

Moderately intense physical activity for 30 minutes most days can reduce your heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes risks. If necessary, break up your workout time into three 10-minute sessions. Gardening, housekeeping, climbing stairs and walking your dog count toward your total.

Gardening, housekeeping, climbing stairs and walking your dog count toward your total.

Eat right

Enjoy fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, low-fat protein and fish like salmon and mackerel. Consume healthy fats from avocados, nuts, olives and olive oil. Limit saturated fat in red meat, dairy products and unhealthy coconut and palm oils to 10 percent of your daily calories. Avoid harmful transfats in fried foods, bakery treats, packaged snacks and margarine.

Limit alcohol

Consult your doctor for your optimal alcohol consumption amount. Then compare any health differences that may occur from changing your individual habits.

Lose weight

Being overweight, especially around your middle, can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which raise your chances of developing heart disease. Reducing your weight by just 5-10 percent can decrease these health risks.

Sleep well

Inadequate sleep increases your likelihood of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack and diabetes. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Stick to a uniform sleep schedule every day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet at a comfortable temperature.

Get screenings

Based on your age, health and heart disease risk factors, your doctor can recommend a schedule to screen you for conditions that affect cardiovascular health. Blood pressure checks, cholesterol labs and fasting blood sugar tests can catch problems early so prompt treatment can avoid complications.

Take prescriptions

Order your cardiac and other maintenance medications from a reliable Canadian pharmacy, and improve your heart and overall health by taking them on schedule.