Moderate drinking may cut risk of heart disease

Research links light alcohol consumption with less risk of heart and blood vessel illness

A study published in the British Medical Journal looked at the health records of 1.93 million UK adults who were all free of cardiovascular disease at the start.  Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

A study published in the British Medical Journal looked at the health records of 1.93 million UK adults who were all free of cardiovascular disease at the start. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

 

Moderate drinking may be good for your heart and even heavy drinking may lower your risk of heart attack, a new study indicates.

Moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease compared to abstinence or heavy drinking, according to the research.

Heavy consumption of alcohol carries a lower risk of heart attack and angina compared to moderate drinking, the study of almost two million British adults finds. However, this effect is more than negated by the increased risk of heart failure, cardiac arrest and ischaemic stroke, as well as non-cardiovascular-related deaths, faced by heavy drinkers.

The study published in the British Medical Journal looked at the health records of 1.93 million UK adults who were all free of cardiovascular disease at the start.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of London say this is the first time the association between drinking and cardiovascular disease has been investigated on such a large scale. Their findings have implications for patient counselling and public health communication, they say, by suggesting the need for a more nuanced approach to the role of alcohol in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease

It is already known that moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, it was thought previous research may have been affected by the inclusion among the non-drinking group of people who gave up drinking because of ill-health.

This study shows the relationship between moderate drinking and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease holds even after different groups of non-drinkers have been separated.

The authors say it would be unwise to encourage people to take up drinking as a means of lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease compared to safer ways such as increasing exercise and stopping smoking.

The finding of lower heart attack and angina risk among heavier drinkers does not mean heavy drinkers will not go on to experience a heart attack. Rather, it means they are less likely to present with this as their first diagnosis compared with moderate drinkers.

The study is observational, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, the authors say.

In the UK, moderate drinking is defined as no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, equivalent to seven pints of beer. Heavy drinkers are those who exceed this limit. In Ireland, where the units used are slightly different, recommended weekly consumption is under 5½ pints a week for women and 8½ pints for men.