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Alcohol & heart health: How much is safe to drink?

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 05 January 2021

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It is a well-known fact that frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol is not good for health. Excessive consumption of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and other complications. However, there are many who believe that moderate intake of alcohol can offer benefits, especially for the heart.
According to a 2018 study published in the medical journal The Lancet, there is no safe limit when it comes to intake of alcohol. This is also true for red wine which is believed by many to possess health-protective properties. So, what does this mean? Let us find out in this article. But before that, we should first understand what constitutes moderate alcohol intake and recognize its overall effects on health and physical well-being.

Does alcohol in moderate quantity offer any benefit?

In general, moderate intake of alcohol is considered as up to one drink for women and two drinks for men, per day. The following amounts of respective alcoholic beverages can be considered as one drink.
  • Regular beer: 355 ml (millilitres)
  • Wine: 148 ml
  • Distilled spirits: 44 ml (80-proof), 30 ml (100-proof)
Some of the much-touted health benefits of moderate alcohol intake have generally included:
  • Increase the levels of HDL ‘or good’ cholesterol
  • Reduce blood clotting
  • Reduce the risk of developing heart disease
  • Possibly lower the risk of ischemic stroke
  • Possibly lower the risk of diabetes
It is worth noting that the chances of reaping these potential health benefits are very less. Furthermore, the benefits may not apply to all individuals. This is because the effects of alcohol can widely vary from person to person.  This is especially true for people who either have the following health conditions or are at risk of them:
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglycerides
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Arrhythmia (Irregular heart rhythm)
  • History of strokes
  • Heart failure
  • Liver disease
Even for healthy individuals, moderate drinking is not entirely risk-free. According to some studies, people who consume just one drink are also at a slightly higher risk of certain cancers than those who do not consume alcohol at all. Even a single drink can interact with certain prescription medications and interfere with their effectiveness. Driving under the influence of even tiny amounts of alcohol can be dangerous.

What does the Lancet study say?

The Lancet, a reputed medical journal, analysed the ‘Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016’ to determine the contribution of alcohol to ill-health, disability, and mortality, in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. The analysis made the following revelations:
  • In 2016, alcohol consumption ranked 7th amongst the major risk factors for both deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs).
  • Alcohol intake contributed to nearly 2·2% female deaths and 6·8% male deaths.
  • For people in the age group of 15-49 years, alcohol is the main cause of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs). In this population, alcohol use accounted for 3·8% female deaths and 12·2% male deaths.
The analysis has debunked the notion that moderate alcohol consumption offers some protective benefits. It noted that any potential protective effects are likely to be outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related problems, including certain types of cancer.
Another study published in the Lancet seems to corroborate these findings. The study by the University of Oxford in collaboration with Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences analyzed results from 500,000 men and women in China. The researchers found that there were no health benefits of moderate drinking. According to them, even moderate alcohol intake increased the risk of stroke.

Conclusion

Alcohol offers no significant health benefits and even moderate alcohol use can adversely affect heart health. According to researchers, the risks offset any potential benefits that moderate intake may offer. Moreover, a healthy diet and lifestyle can offer most of the potential benefits tied to moderate alcohol intake. Therefore, avoiding alcohol is the best option for those who do not drink. Those who enjoy their drink may limit it to an occasional indulgence.
Talk to a cardiologist if you have any questions related to heart health.
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