Even light drinkers have increased risk of heart disease, says study

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 9:48pm

A glass or two of alcohol is good for your heart, according to long-standing medical advice that drinkers are often fond of citing.

But, according to a study published yesterday, this cherished invitation to say "cheers" is well off the mark.

Reducing even light consumption of alcohol will not only improve your chances against coronary heart disease, but also help you lose weight and ease high blood pressure, it said.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers carried out an overview of 50 published studies into the drinking habits and health of more than 260,000 people of European descent.

Juan Casas, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which led the study, along with UCL and Pennsylvania University, said the message was clear that the less you drink the better.

"The best thing to do is to reduce consumption to reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease," said the study's senior author. "We expect that these findings will help to simplify policymaking about alcohol consumption.

"There was this issue about whether low to moderate consumption was good for your heart. This study shows that this is simply not the case."

The study found that individuals who carry a genetic variant of the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B gene, which tends to lower their alcohol consumption because it causes them unpleasant symptoms, had on average a 10 per cent lower risk of coronary heart disease. They also had lower blood pressure and a lower body mass index.

Casas said previous studies did not take account of the effect of other behaviour patterns associated with low-to-moderate alcohol consumption.

"People who drink low to moderate amounts are more likely to be engaging in physical activity and they're more conscious about quality of diet," he said. "That may appear to make them appear at lower risk of coronary heart disease.

"In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker.

"Assuming the association is causal, it appears that even if you're a light drinker, reducing your alcohol consumption could be beneficial for your heart."

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, said the study did have some limitations, but it was impressive and "rightly concludes we should not accept the dogma that alcohol drinking is good for us".

Light-to-moderate drinking is generally considered to be consumption of between 12 and 25 alcoholic units per week.

Agence France-Presse, The Guardian