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Your heart may be healthier with some drinking, but exercise is better

Harold Mandel's picture
Enjoying a cocktail

Researchers say that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may be associated with a lower risk of some heart conditions.


There has been a great deal of controversy about whether drinking alcohol may be beneficial for cardiac health. Good news for people who enjoy drinking alcohol in moderation is that this may turn out to be beneficial in many respects for heart health.

There is a decreased risk of some cardiac conditions with moderate drinking

The BMJ newsroom reports that it has been observed that there is a decreased risk of some cardiac conditions with moderate drinking. However this benefit of drinking is not seen for all heart conditions.

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These findings were from a large study of adults in the United Kingdom. Overall it is thought that there is a decreased risk of getting heart disease among moderate drinkers of alcohol in comparison with completely abstaining from drinking or drinking heavily. Moderate drinking is defined in the United Kingdom as drinking no more than 14 units (112 grams) of alcohol weekly. A single unit of alcohol equals about a half a pint of ordinary strength beer. A small glass of wine which is 12% alcohol equals about one and a half units of alcohol.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London explored the association between
drinking alcohol and 12 cardiovascular diseases. They analyzed the electronic health records of 1.93 million healthy adults. At the start of the study all of the participants were free from cardiovascular disease.

Getting more physical activity and stopping smoking are safer than moderate drinking

Moderate drinking was found to be associated with a decreased risk of first presenting to a physician with several cardiovascular conditions which included heart failure, angina and ischaemic stroke, in comparison with abstaining from drinking alcohol. In spite of these findings the authors have taken the position that it is not wise to encourage people to begin drinking to lower their risk of heart disease. Getting more physical activity and stopping smoking are safer and more effective.

The BMJ Journal research has shown that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with a decreased risk of presenting initially with several, but not all, heart diseases. This has implications for counselling of patients and public health communication. It's interesting for many people that a couple of drinks now and than may benefit their heart health. However, overall healthy lifestyle interventions such as more exercise, cessation of smoking, and good nutrition are safer.