Alcohol Consumption And Heart Health

Research suggests that drinking a small amount of alcohol each day could have a protective effect against coronary disease or stroke. A new study, however, appears to contradict these claims.

An international study

Published the British Medical Journal, the multi-center study was conducted in the U.S. through the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and performed by 155 researchers from around the world, including North America, Europe, Australia and the U.K.

The team reviewed 50 prior studies involving more than 260,000 subjects and paid particular attention to subjects with a genetic variant that causes unpleasant symptoms after drinking alcohol.

Because the variant of the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B gene causes the body to break down alcohol more rapidly, people with the variation often feel nauseated or become flushed after they drink. As a result, these individuals presumably wind up drinking less alcohol over time.

The researchers found that individuals with the genetic variant drank less than those who did not have the variant and also had significantly better heart health, according to their medical records. The investigators concluded that reductions in even light alcohol consumption yielded several positive health benefits, including better heart health.

New conclusions

The investigators reported that those who consumed 17% less alcohol each week appeared to lower their risk for heart disease by 10% on average and had a lower body mass index and lower blood pressure.

Although the study reveals a positive association between lower alcohol consumption and heart health, it does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship. A number of factors unrelated to or only partially related to alcohol consumption could also be at work. For example, the genetic variant that presumably leads to lower alcohol consumption could have protective benefits independent of alcohol consumption. More research is needed to sort out the many variables before arriving at a conclusion.

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