Light Drinking May Not Be Good for Your Heart After All - Study Shows

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By Sarah Thomas | July 14, 2014 11:51 AM EST

A new study announced that even a small amount of alcohol is bad for the heart; the study dismisses the widely held belief that light drinking is good for the heart. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed more than 50 studies that had previously examined nearly 2,60,000 people. The research was published in the British Journal of Medicine.

REUTERS/Michael Dalder
Beer bottles from all over the world are on display at the Hop museum in Wolnzach on April 10, 2014. A slump in consumption of more than a third in the last 25 years has hit Germany, Europe's biggest beer producer, triggering intense competition and price discounting. With young Germans turning to spirits and non-alcoholic fruit drinks, beer sales fell 2 percent last year alone. Traditional family breweries, also under pressure from double-digit rises in energy, glass and malt costs, are struggling, some dying. In a bid to move upmarket and charge more, some breweries are trying to tap into growing demand for speciality beer. Picture taken April 10, 2014. To match Feature GERMANY-BEER/

It was found that alcohol even in small amounts increases the risk of heart disease. As the consumption of alcohol decreased, the risk of heart disease decreased too. This change was noted regardless of the level of consumption reported by participants. Those with a form of gene tied to lower levels of drinking had healthier hearts. The gene determines the breaking down of alcohol by a person's body, resulting in lower drinking over the long term. It causes symptoms such as nausea and facial flushing.

Generally, people with the gene were seen to have lower blood pressure, lower body mass index and a 10 per cent lower risk of heart disease.

Study senior author Juan Casas, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in a university press release, "While the damaging effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the heart are well-established, for the last few decades we've often heard reports of the potential health benefits of light-to-moderate drinking. However, we now have evidence that some of these studies suffer from limitations that may affect the validity of their findings."

In the study, the link between reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health was seen regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker, explained Casas. The study was successful in establishing a link between the two but could not prove cause and effect. Researchers said a large scale gene study is needed to confirm these findings.

Dr Shannon Amoils, senior research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, said in the news release, "Studies into alcohol consumption are fraught with difficulty, in part because they rely on people giving accurate accounts of their drinking habits. Here the researchers used a clever study design to get round this problem by including people who had a gene that predisposes them to drink less."

The results, Amolis said, reinforced the view that a small to moderate amount of alcohol may not be healthy for the heart, although he stated, "The study would need to be repeated in a larger group of people for definitive results."

Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, cautioned people of the findings, "In light of the many trials revealing the antioxidant polyphenols found in red wine as being beneficial for cardiovascular disease, one must look at this trial with a critical eye." He said that it was clear that the patients with this genetic variant had a reduction in alcohol intake, but it is unclear if it was in itself a factor improving their cardiovascular outcomes.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Michael Dalder / )
Beer bottles from all over the world are on display at the Hop museum in Wolnzach on April 10, 2014. A slump in consumption of more than a third in the last 25 years has hit Germany, Europe's biggest beer producer, triggering intense competition and price discounting. With young Germans turning to spirits and non-alcoholic fruit drinks, beer sales fell 2 percent last year alone. Traditional family breweries, also under pressure from double-digit rises in energy, glass and malt costs, are struggling, some dying. In a bid to move upmarket and charge more, some breweries are trying to tap into growing demand for speciality beer. Picture taken April 10, 2014. To match Feature GERMANY-BEER/
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