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Recent research suggests that light to moderate alcohol consumption may not have significant benefits on heart health, as previously reported. A new study shows that reducing alcohol intake increases the likelihood of having a healthy heart.

Light to moderate alcohol drinkers are often happy to justify their drinking habits as supportive of heart health. After all, a number of studies have shown that people who drink one (for women) or two (for men) glasses of wine a day are less likely to develop heart disease, compared to those who do not consume alcohol at all. On the other hand, people to take more than these amounts (heavy drinkers) may have a greater risk of developing heart disease and other health problems such as liver disease and cancer, than those who take less.

In recent years, scientists and doctors have stated that light to moderate drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle, when combined with a balanced diet and regular physical activity.

But more recently, some researchers report new evidence that reducing alcohol intake, even for light drinkers, may have more benefits for cardiovascular health, than taking it regularly.

Alcohol's Effects on the Heart

Some research suggests that alcoholic drinks, when taken in moderation, may exert cardioprotective effects that reduce one's risk for heart disease. That is, people who drink one alcoholic beverage (or less) per day are up to 25% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared to nondrinkers. This conclusion was reached after different scientists conducted a review of multiple studies, which investigated the relationship of alcohol intake to heart disease. Some studies have found that tests for physical markers associated with heart disease are often better among light to moderate drinkers than for non-drinkers. They have found that light to moderate levels of alcohol consumption can:

  • Increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels

  • Lower blood pressure levels

  • Inhibit blood clot formation, which may help prevent heart attacks

  • Help prevent atherosclerosis or artery damage due to high LDL (bad cholesterol) levels

Although proponents of red wine-drinking advocate including this type of alcohol beverage in a healthy Mediterranean-style diet to promote heart health, some researchers have discovered that the benefits are related to the alcohol content of the drinks and not necessarily to the type of beverage consumed. Thus, health experts have recommended safe levels of alcohol intake as taking one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink may consist of wine, beer or other liquors) at these amounts:

  • Wine, up to 4 to 5 ounces (oz)

  • Beer, up to 12 oz

  • Liquor, up to1.5 oz

However, the American Heart Association (AHA) emphasizes that these benefits may be obtained by other means, which does not involve consuming alcohol. For example, eating a healthy, balanced diet, controlling weight, and doing regular physical activity can help balance good and bad cholesterol levels, prevent weight gain, and reduce one's risk of heart disease as well.

Many health experts therefore advise that if you do not drink alcohol at all, it is better to keep it that way, than to start taking it for the sake of these heart benefits.

For those who drink occasionally, it is best to keep within the recommended safe levels of drinking to benefit from its effects and to avoid health problems.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • BMJ. Association between alcohol and cardiovascular disease: Mendelian randomisation analysis based on individual participant data. http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4164
  • ScienceDaily. Drinking alcohol provides no heart health benefit, new study shows. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710151947.htm
  • ScienceDaily. Drinking alcohol in moderation protects against heart disease, meta-analysis finds. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110222192913.htm
  • WebMD. Alcohol and heart disease. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/alcohol-and-heart-disease
  • WebMD. Alcohol and heart disease. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-alcohol-your-heart
  • AHA. Alcohol and Heart Health. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Alcohol-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_305173_Article.jsp
  • ScienceDaily. Drinking pattern linked to alcohol's effect on heart health. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907104705.htm
  • Photo courtesy of Ullmann by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/emuphoto/1096875363
  • Photo courtesy of Will Fisher by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/fireatwillrva/12805616245
  • www.sciencedaily.com
  • www.webmd.com
  • www.bmj.com
  • www.heart.org

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