Alcohol & Heart Health: New Study Untangles the Effects

For example, grouping non-drinkers with former drinkers, who may have stopped drinking due to poor health.

Researchers from Cambridge University and University College London set out to investigate the association between alcohol consumption and 12 cardiovascular diseases by analysing electronic health records of 1.93 million healthy British adults.

"But it's important to remember that the risks of drinking alcohol far outweigh any possible benefits". When the study began, all of the participants were 30 years old or older, and none had previously experienced any heart problems. They were also less likely to have circulation problems caused by fat in their arteries, aortic aneurysms, and ischaemic strokes - the most common kind of stroke.

Previous studies have suggested that alcohol has a positive effect on the levels of "good" cholesterol in the blood, but while these findings seem positive, the researches are urging that drinking alcohol is not the most effective way of lowering cardiovascular risk.

Moderate drinking slashes the risk of a heart attack or stroke, a major study reveals today.

The study's findings are particularly interesting because the researchers separated drinkers into categories that are typically lumped together in these kinds of studies.

Rather, the new study backs up what was already known from four decades of studies: that moderate drinking is linked to a lower risk of certain heart conditions, Mukamal and Lazo wrote. In more palatable terms, a pint of beer that's around 5 percent alcohol is equal to 3 units of alcohol, and a standard glass of wine is equal to about 2 units.

Dr James Nicholls, the director of research and policy development at Alcohol Research UK, said that given the increased risk of other health conditions from drinking, moderate alcohol consumption within existing guidelines was unlikely to curtail or lengthen life expectancy overall.

Researchers found that moderate drinking reduced the risk of several heart conditions more than not drinking alcohol at all. However, they had a lower risk of a heart attack and angina, the researcher report.

The authors cautioned that this did not mean they were less likely to experience a heart attack in future, just that they were less likely to present these conditions at first diagnosis, compared with moderate drinkers.

"After looking at electronic health records for nearly two million healthy adults in the United Kingdom, researchers found that moderate drinkers (those who consumed no more than around 14 units of alcohol per week) were less likely than heavy drinkers and teetotallers to see a doctor for several conditions including heart attacks and strokes caused by blood clots".

There are other, arguably safer ways to improve heart health, such as exercising and quitting smoking, that don't come with the risks of alcohol, they wrote.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the U.S. said the study "sets the stage for ever larger and more sophisticated studies that will attempt to harness the flood of big data into a stream of useful, reliable, and unbiased findings".

  • Joanne Flowers