Humans have been drinking alcohol for thousands of years and most people associate it with relaxation and having a good time. However, it also has many negative consequences like health problems, irresponsible behaviour and addiction.
One of the positive spinoffs of having a drink each day is that it may help protect a person's heart against disease, a large-scale study suggests.
Moderation is key
A recent Health24 article highlights the fact that the French, who are regular moderate drinkers – compared to the British who either don't drink or binge – have half the number of deaths from heart attacks. This is despite the fact that they consume twice the amount of fat, smoke more and don't do any more exercise.
But don't bend that elbow too often: drinking to excess can increase your risk for a variety of heart problems, the study also showed.
Researchers tracked more than 1.9 million healthy British adults and found that having the occasional drink was tied to reductions in the risk of heart attack, sudden heart death, heart failure and stroke, compared to non-drinkers.
Cheers to casual drinking
In the study, "moderate" drinking was defined as 7 pints of regular beer or 1.5 bottles of wine in one week, researchers said in background notes.
Drinking more than that increased the risk of many heart health problems, researchers found. Those included sudden heart death, heart failure, cardiac arrest and stroke.
"We have shown that heavy drinking increases a person's risk of developing a variety of different types of cardiovascular disease as well as raising their risk of dying from non-cardiovascular causes," said lead researcher Steven Bell. He's a genetic epidemiologist with the University of Cambridge in England.
The kind of alcoholic beverage one indulges in is also important as a recent study shows. Researchers studied the effects of red wine and vodka on pigs and found that the pigs with a penchant for pinot noir fared better than their vodka swilling swine counterparts.
They found that although moderate consumption of both alcohols may reduce cardiovascular risk, red wine may offer increased protection due to its antioxidant properties.
Despite these results, non-drinkers shouldn't feel pressure to pick up a bottle for their heart health, even though the study showed some potential benefit from casual drinking, Bell said.
"There are safer and more effective ways of reducing cardiovascular risk, such as increasing levels of physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet and quitting smoking, which do not incur increased risks of harm such as alcohol dependence, liver disease and certain types of cancer," Bell, said.
For this study, researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London investigated the potential link between alcohol consumption and 12 cardiovascular diseases by analysing electronic health records for nearly 2 million adults with good heart health.
Going over the line
The investigators found that moderate drinkers had a 32% lower risk of heart attack, 56% lower risk of sudden heart death, 24% lower risk of heart failure, and 12% decreased risk of ischaemic stroke. This type of stroke occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
But people who went over the line into heavy drinking wound up with increased heart health risks, including a 21% higher risk of sudden heart death, a 22% higher risk of heart failure, a 50% increased risk of cardiac arrest, a 33% increased risk of ischaemic stroke and a 37% increased risk of bleeding in the brain.
The findings were reported in the British Medical Journal.
The new study is consistent with earlier results that have indicated a potential heart health benefit from an occasional drink, but it amplifies the message since it involved millions of patients, said Dr Allan Stewart, director of aortic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.