Moderate Alcohol Consumption Might Actually Do Your Heart Some Good

Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption might actually be a good thing for the heart and heart diseases, according to the recent results of a study out of Norway.

Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption might actually be a good thing for the heart and heart diseases, according to the recent results of a study out of Norway.

Compelling evidence suggested that if consumed in moderate quantities, there is a reduced risk of acute myocardial infarction (AMI), lower heart failure risk, and an overall positive effect on a healthy lifestyle.

The study stressed that the moderation helps maintain a healthy lifestyle, regardless of the type of beverage—wine, liquor, or beer.

Moderate drinking is a social norm in most Western countries, but very few studies have tackled the positives of moderate consumption. Therefore, the cohort study—conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology with results published in the International Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Internal Medicine—addressed some lesser-know effects of alcohol consumption on the heart.

The purpose of the study is to evaluate the effect of alcohol consumption on AMI risk, the importance of frequency and quantity of consumption, and the role of medical and psychiatric comorbidities.

Methods

The study included 58,827 participants studied for 11.6 years. Past (10 years earlier) and current quantity and frequency of their consumption of beer, wine, and spirits were logged in through questionnaires. All participants were from Norway, and older than 20 years of age.

Other factors considered simultaneously were demographic factors, such as gender, age and education levels; lifestyle factors, such as smoking habits, physical activity levels, anxiety, and depression; chronic conditions; and other clinical variables, such as height, weight, and blood pressure.

AMI Risk Down; Liver Disease Risk Up

Generally, 41% of study participants were abstainers or rare drinkers. Regular drinkers were more likely to be men, smokers, physically active, and younger; they were also more likely to live alone and have higher education.

Specific results were as follows:

  • The risk of AMI was lower among regular drinkers than among abstainers or rare drinkers.
  • The higher the frequency of drinking (more than 5 times a month), the lower the risk of AMI.
  • Consumption of wine and spirits brought down the risk of AMI slightly more than consumption of beer.
  • If the models adjusted for age, smoking, or body mass index, there was still no difference in the association between alcohol consumption and AMI. However, among women (who consumed less alcohol than men), the association was slightly weaker.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption was not associated with an increased risk of total mortality or of death as an underlying cause due to ischemic heart disease, stroke, or atrial fibrillation.
  • However, alcohol consumption was strongly associated with an increased risk of death due to liver disease, particularly amongst problem drinkers.

A Healthy Heart

A higher frequency of alcohol consumption is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk. Furthermore, the frequency of alcohol intake is more strongly associated with AMI than the amount or type of alcohol. Overall, it is safe to say that frequent alcohol consumption is most cardio-protective.

However, the researchers caution: “We've only been studying the heart, and it's important to emphasize that a little alcohol every day can be healthy for the heart. But that doesn't mean it's necessary to drink alcohol every day to have a healthy heart.”