Alcohol Benefits Cardiovascular Health, 30 Year Review Reveals

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A little bit of alcohol can go a long way toward helping your heart, according to the results of a review of studies conducted over about 30 years. Investigators found that moderate alcohol use benefits cardiovascular health compared with not drinking alcohol at all.

Moderate alcohol intake reduces heart disease risk

This latest information about alcohol and the heart comes from two reviews, both published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal. In one review, a total of 4,690 articles were screened for eligibility, of which 44 were included in the final meta-analysis. Thirteen biomarkers were evaluated.

The researchers, led by Dr. Susan Brien of the University of Calgary, found that a moderate amount of alcohol per day (up to 15 grams of alcohol for women and up to 30 grams for men) was associated with significantly increased levels of the “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, HDL), lower levels of fibrinogen (a substance that helps blood to clot), and higher levels of both adiponectin (a hormone associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes) and apolipoprotein A1 (a major component of HDL).

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These results were similar for all three types of alcohol evaluated—beer, spirits, and wine. The study concluded that “these findings extend previous evidence supporting an apparent causal role for alcohol consumption in preventing coronary heart disease through favourable effects on levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol, fibrinogen, and adiponectin.”

In the other review, led by Professor WiIliam Ghali, also from the University of Calgary, a total of 4,235 studies were reviewed, of which 84 were chosen for the final evaluation. Analysis revealed that the lowest risk of coronary heart disease death occurred among people who drank 1 to 2 drinks daily, but for stroke deaths the lowest risk was associated with one drink or less per day.

Overall, this second study found that the risk of death from all causes was lower among people who were moderate drinkers compared with non-drinkers. Specifically, 2.5 to 14.9 grams of alcohol per day (one drink or less) was consistently associated with a 14 to 25 percent reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, death from coronary heart disease, death from stroke, incident of coronary heart disease, and incident of stroke.

One challenge experts have in presenting these findings is ensuring the public understands that moderate alcohol consumption--1 drink (15 grams) or less per day is optimal, and up to 2 drinks (or 30 grams) for men--is beneficial for the heart. Large amounts of alcohol, however, are not healthful, so individuals need to know when to say no if they want to benefit their heart.

SOURCES:
Brien SE et al. British Medical Journal 2011; 342: d636
Ronksley PE et al. British Medical Journal 2011; 342:d671

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