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Light Alcohol Intake is Risky After All, Large Study Finds

Light Alcohol Intake is Risky After All, Large Study Finds


Experts have always told us that light to moderate alcohol consumption might be beneficial to promote better heart health. In fact, observational analysis of UK Biobank participants showed that light to moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of heart disease. That was followed by people who completely abstained from alcohol.

However, a large study showed that all levels of alcohol intake are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Light alcohol intake slightly increases the risk of heart diseases. The risks vary, with heavier consumption leading to higher risks.

What's notable is that light-to-moderate drinkers generally have a healthier lifestyle than abstainers, so their better heart health may result from other lifestyle choices rather than their alcohol consumption.


The Research

The study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, was led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. It included 371,463 adults with an average age of 57 years and average alcohol consumption of 9.2 drinks per week.

Like other past studies, light to moderate drinkers have the lowest risk of heart diseases. In addition, this particular study discovered that these participants engaged more in healthier lifestyle practices like regular physical activity, less smoking, and higher vegetable intake. After careful consideration, it's rational to say that these lifestyle choices are what contribute to better heart health.

The researchers employed the new Mendelian randomization method, which uses genetics to determine whether exposure to something directly causes the outcome. In this study, it was whether light alcohol consumption directly causes a lower cardiovascular disease risk.

The research method discovered that individuals with genetic variants that predicted higher alcohol use were also at higher risk of hypertension and coronary artery disease. It also found that cardiovascular disease risks minimally rose as alcohol use increased from zero to seven drinks per week. The rise was more significant as the use increased from seven to fourteen drinks weekly.

Without a doubt, the study revealed that risks of cardiovascular diseases increase with alcohol use, whether light or heavy. The only takeaway is that the increase varies, with minimal alcohol use only slightly raising the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women is currently considered "low risk" by national guidelines from the US Department of Agriculture. However, the study shows that even this amount can raise the risks of cardiovascular diseases.

While people who drink infrequently can slightly lower their risks of heart diseases by cutting back some more, heavy drinkers stand more to gain because the effects are more significant for intense alcohol use.


The Bottom Line

The study findings reveal that alcohol consumption (no matter how light) should not be advised for improving heart health. Instead, experts should recommend a generally healthier lifestyle, which includes staying active, quitting/reducing tobacco and alcohol use, and eating healthy diets.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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