While there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that too much drinking could be bad for overall health, new research has claimed that people who consistently drink alcohol moderately – within recommended health guidelines, of course – could actually be benefiting their heart health.
Research conducted by the University College London and the University of Cambridge has found that while unstable drinking patterns can be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, consistent moderate drinking could have a cardioprotective effect.
The study of 35,132 people found that compared to those who consistently followed sensible drinking guidelines over 10 years, people who inconsistently drank in moderation, those who stopped drinking and people who didn’t drink at all had a higher risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
The results, published in the BMC Medicine Journal, used long-term data between non-drinkers and former drinkers to allow researchers to test whether it was only former drinkers who have an increased risk of CHD.
“We did not find this to be the case but we did observe a sex-related difference,” Dr Dara O’Neill, corresponding author from the University College London said in a statement. “Amongst consistent non-drinkers, women showed higher risk of developing CHD compared to consistently moderate drinkers, but their male counterparts did not.”
Researchers found 1,718 of the 35,132 people examined as part of the study developed CHD. Of them, 325 died, while CHD was highest in former drinkers. Meanwhile, CHD episodes were lowest for consistently heavy drinkers. Still, this doesn’t mean people should start increasing their alcohol intake.
“Given that heavy drinkers are known to be under sampled in population level surveys, interpretation of the absence of effect amongst heavy drinkers in the current study should be done very cautiously, particularly in light of the known wider health impact of heavy alcohol intake levels,” O’Neill said.
Researchers found that instability in drinking behaviour over time was linked with CHD risk, possibly because unstable drinking patterns reflect bigger lifestyle changes including ill-health or stress. It could also explain the difference in risk between different age groups.
“When we split the sample by age, we found that elevated risk of incident CHD amongst inconsistently moderate drinkers was observed in patients aged over 55, but those aged below,” O’Neill explained. “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.”
Information was collected through five UK studies and one French study. Drinking behaviour was measured based on alcohol content in drinks including half pints of beer and cider, small glasses of wine, single serves of spirits, each which contained 8g of ethanol in the UK studies and 10g of ethanol in the French study. Moderate drinking was considered to be up to 168g/ethanol a week for men and no more than 112g/ethanol a week for women.
It should also be noted that it was an observational study.