Light alcohol drinking cannot improve your heart health

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In a recent study from MIT and Harvard, scientists found that alcohol intake at all levels was linked to higher risks of heart disease.

The findings suggest that the supposed benefits of alcohol drinking may actually be attributed to other lifestyle factors that are common among light to moderate drinkers.

In the study, researchers examined 371,463 adults—with an average age of 57 years and average alcohol consumption of 9.2 drinks per week

Consistent with earlier studies, the team found that light to moderate drinkers had the lowest heart disease risk, followed by people who abstained from drinking. People who drank heavily had the highest risk.

However, the team also found that light to moderate drinkers tended to have healthier lifestyles than abstainers—such as more physical activity and vegetable intake, and less smoking.

Taking just a few lifestyle factors into account strongly lowered any benefit associated with alcohol consumption.

The study also applied the latest techniques in a method called Mendelian randomization, which uses genetic variants to determine whether an observed link between an exposure and an outcome is consistent with a causal effect—in this case, whether light alcohol consumption causes a person to be protected against cardiovascular disease.

The team found that people with genetic variants that predicted higher alcohol consumption were indeed more likely to consume greater amounts of alcohol, and more likely to have hypertension and coronary artery disease.

The analyses also found big differences in heart risk across the spectrum of alcohol consumption among both men and women, with minimal increases in risk when going from zero to seven drinks per week, much higher risk increases when progressing from seven to 14 drinks per week, and especially high risk when consuming 21 or more drinks per week.

Notably, the findings suggest a rise in heart risk even at levels deemed “low risk” by national guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (i.e. below two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women).

The discovery was supported by an additional analysis of data on 30,716 participants in the Mass General Brigham Biobank.

Therefore, while cutting back on consumption can benefit even people who drink one alcoholic beverage per day, the health gains of cutting back may be more substantial—and, perhaps, more clinically meaningful—in those who consume more.

The team says the findings affirm that alcohol intake should not be recommended to improve cardiovascular health.

Rather, reducing alcohol intake will likely reduce cardiovascular risk in all individuals, albeit to different extents based on one’s current level of consumption.

If you care about heart health, please read studies that this number, not BMI, linked to heart disease and two common diabetes drugs spike heart attack risk.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about drug for erectile dysfunction that may help treat heart failure, and results showing that women with this health issue are at twice the risk of heart disease.

The research was published in JAMA Network Open and conducted by Krishna G. Aragam et al.

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