A recent large-scale study indicates that alcohol, in moderation, is healthy for the heart. New research published in the British Medical Journal adds further evidence linking alcohol consumption with lower risks of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. While the new study is consistent with earlier results that have shown potential heart health benefits from occasional drinking, it amplifies the message due to its large sample population.
Drinking about a glass of wine for women per day, and two glasses of wine for men, showed benefits for heart health in a large group of U.K. adults; of the near 2 million subjects, none had cardiovascular disease when the study began. People who did not drink showed increased risk for eight of the heart ailments, ranging from 12% to 56%, compared to those who drank in moderation; the eight conditions included the most common heart events—such as heart attack and stroke. Non-drinkers had a 33% higher risk of unstable angina, a condition in which the heart does not receive sufficient blood flow, and a 56% higher risk of dying unexpectedly from cardiovascular disease—compared to those people who drank a glass or two of alcohol each day.
There are several potential ways that casual drinking might benefit heart health, although none have been directly proven. Alcohol consumption has been linked to increases in ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and properties in the blood that reduce clotting. It is also possible that moderate drinking helps reduce stress levels.
Yet alcohol does not provide protection against four less common heart problems, including certain types of mild strokes. It is not clear from the current study why alcohol lowers the risk of some heart conditions and not others, but the results should reassure people who drink a few glasses of alcohol each week. Moreover, while casual drinking shows potential benefit, drinking to excess can increase risks for a variety of heart problems.