- UK research finds that those who drink moderately and consistently have a lower risk of coronary heart disease.
- And unstable drinking patterns may be associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
- The researchers examined data on 35,132 people, comparing those who followed UK sensible drinking guidelines to those who stopped drinking, inconsistently drank in moderation and reported no drinking over ten years.
The latest research shows that drinking alcohol in moderation can lower the risk of heart disease.
But consistency matters. Just drinking now and then may actually have a higher risk of coronary heart disease.
Researchers say unstable drinking patterns may be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, whereas consistent and moderate drinking within recommended health guidelines may have a cardio-protective effect.
A study, by a team of researchers led by University College London and the University of Cambridge and published in the open access journal BMC Medicine, analysed data on 35,132 individuals.
The research compared individuals who consistently followed UK sensible drinking guidelines over a period of ten years, those who inconsistently drank in moderation, those who had stopped drinking (former drinkers) and those who reported no drinking.
Those who drank moderately had a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) than those in other groups.
UK sensible drinking guidelines say men should have no more than 21 units per week and women no more than 14. Both men and women should have two to three alcohol-free days.
A unit is 8 grams of pure alcohol, roughly a half pint of beer, a small glass of wine or a single serving of spirits.
In the US, the suggested limit is one drink a day for women and two for men.
“This study uses long-term data to distinguish between persistent non-drinkers and former drinkers, allowing us to test the established theory that only the latter have an elevated risk of CHD (coronary heart disease),” says Dr Dara O’Neill, the corresponding author from University College London.
“We did not find this to be the case but we did observe a sex-related difference. Amongst consistent non-drinkers, women showed higher risk of developing CHD compared to consistently moderate drinkers, but their male counterparts did not.”
The findings suggest that instability in drinking behavior over time is associated with heart disease risk.
This may be because unstable drinking patterns reflect wider lifestyle changes across the course of people’s lives, including periods of ill-health or life stress, according to the authors.
Lifestyle changes may also account for variations in risk the authors observed when they compared different age groups.
“When we split the sample by age, we found that the elevated risk of incident CHD amongst inconsistently moderate drinkers was observed in participants aged over 55, but not those aged below,” says Dr O’Neill.
“It may be that the older group experienced lifestyle changes, such as retirement, which are known to co-occur with increases in alcohol intake and that these could have played a role in the differing risk.”
The authors note that a lack of information on alcohol intake prior to the beginning of the 10-year assessment period could mean that the long-term abstainers identified in this study include some former drinkers.
Sick heavy drinkers may also not have been captured in the study sample due to possible dropout from the investigation at an earlier stage.
Another study earlier this year, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that people who drink in moderation may be less likely to die early than those who stay away from alcohol altogether.
Results showed that people who never drink alcohol had a 7% higher chance of dying or getting cancer than people who drank up to three bottles of beer or glasses of wine per week.
However, too much alcohol brings significant health risks including cancer, brain damage, and liver disease.
Another study indicates that just one extra glass of wine or pint of beer over the recommended weekly limit could cut life expectancy by 30 minutes.
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