Moderate Drinking Linked to Lower Risk of Some Heart Conditions

Photo: Emanuel Feruzi, Unsplash

Moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of several, but not all, cardiovascular diseases, according to a large study of United Kingdom adults led by researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London.

Not A Call for Bellying Up to Bar

This doesn’t mean that it is advisable for individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their cardiovascular risk. There are other, safer and more effective ways, such as being more physically active, maintaining a healthy diet and stopping smoking.

The finding published in the in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) shows that moderate drinking is not universally associated with a lower risk of all cardiovascular conditions.

Moderate drinking is thought to be associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared with abstinence or heavy drinking.

About the Study

The study defined moderate drinking in the UK as 7 pints of beer a week…A pint of beer is approximately 1.75 bottles of beer. So, that would mean beer drinkers could have about 9 beers a week. For wine lovers, this means a little more than one and a half bottles of wine per week.

The researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London investigated the association between alcohol consumption and 12 cardiovascular diseases by analyzing health records of 1.93 million healthy adults in the United Kingdom.

All participants were free from cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, and non-drinkers were separated from former and occasional drinkers to provide additional clarity in this debate.

The researchers looked at the effect of different levels of drinking on the risk of ‘first presenting’ to a doctor with a number of cardiovascular diseases. For example, did moderate drinking make it more or less likely that an individual’s first diagnosis of cardiovascular disease was a heart attack.

After several influential factors were accounted for, moderate drinking was associated with a lower risk of several, but not all, cardiovascular conditions, including angina, heart failure and ischaemic stroke (the most common type of stroke, when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain), compared with abstaining from alcohol.

It’s Called Moderation

“This doesn’t mean that it is advisable for individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their cardiovascular risk,” says Dr Steven Bell from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge. “Alcohol consumption is associated with other diseases, such as liver disease and certain types of cancer. There are other, safer and more effective ways, such as being more physically active, maintaining a healthy diet and stopping smoking.

“Ultimately an individual’s decision to drink, and at what level, should not be considered in isolation of other health behaviors or risk factors and instead be motivated by their own personal circumstances.”

Heavy drinking (exceeding recommended limits) conferred an increased risk of a range of cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, cardiac arrest (when the heart malfunctions and stops beating suddenly) and ischaemic stroke compared with moderate drinking. However, it carried a lower risk of heart attack (when blood flow to the heart is blocked) and angina.

Again, the authors explain that this does not mean that heavy drinkers will not go on to experience a heart attack in the future, just this was less likely to be their first diagnosis compared with moderate drinkers.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

Nevertheless, they say it is the first time this association has been investigated on such a large scale and their findings have implications for patient counselling, public health communication, and disease prediction tools.

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