Previous studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may be good for the heart – but new research reveals that this is sadly not the case, and consuming even small quantities of booze can result in cardiovascular complications.
After examining data from over 350,000 people in the UK, researchers concluded that those who drank less than the recommended limit of 14 weekly units of alcohol still face an elevated risk of heart problems. Beer, cider, and spirits appeared riskier than wine.
Writing in the journal Clinical Nutrition, the authors call into question the validity of older studies that found those who drink small amounts of alcohol are less likely to experience cardiovascular issues than those who abstain from booze completely.
Such analyses are inaccurate, they say, because many non-drinkers choose to stay off the sauce because they have underlying heart issues, meaning that the increased hospitalization rate among teetotallers is to be expected and should not be taken as evidence for a protective effect of moderate drinking.
They also point out that while small quantities of wine have been shown to reduce the odds of coronary artery disease, it is not clear if other alcoholic drinks convey similar benefits, or if wine protects against other types of cardiovascular illnesses.
To investigate, they harvested data from the UK Biobank in order to determine the number of hospitalizations for heart problems among 333,259 drinkers and 21,710 abstainers. All participants were followed for an average of almost seven years, during which they provided information about their weekly alcohol consumption.
Overall, non-drinkers were 31 percent more likely to end up in hospital during this period, although the researchers note that members of this group were generally older, less physically active, less economically affluent, and had a higher body mass index – all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular problems.
The authors then decided to discard non-drinkers from their analysis and compare hospitalization rates between moderate and heavy drinkers. They discovered that drinking a small amount of wine provides a minimal degree of protection against ischemic heart disease, but not against other cardiovascular complications.
Beer, cider, and spirits, meanwhile, did not reduce the risk of hospitalization when consumed in moderation – on the contrary, even small quantities of these drinks were associated with an increased risk.
Among those who consumed less than the UK recommended limit of 14 weekly units, each additional pint of beer – with an alcohol content of four percent alcohol by volume – was found to raise the likelihood of heart problems by 23 percent.
Commenting on these findings, study author Dr Rudolph Schutte explained in a statement that the idea of a “health benefit from low to moderate alcohol consumption is the biggest myth since we were told smoking was good for us.”
“Among drinkers of beer, cider and spirits in particular, even those consuming under 14 units a week had an increased risk of ending up in hospital through a cardiovascular event involving the heart or the blood vessels,” he said.
Based on these observations, Schutte says “a strengthening of the guidelines” is now called for, and that people should be advised to consume less than the currently recommended amount.