Genetic Study Suggests that Light Alcohol Consumption Does Not Benefit Cardiovascular Health

Eric Sentell

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Wine pouring into a glassTerry Vlisidis on Unsplash

A recent large-scale study questions whether light-to-moderate alcohol consumption benefits cardiovascular health or actually increases the risk of a heart attack.

To which millions of wine-lovers say, "Are you kidding me? I felt good about enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, and now you want to take that away from me?!"

A research team including doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard concluded that any cardiovascular benefits from light alcohol consumption probably come from better diet and exercise instead.

The study included 371,463 adults with an average age of 57 years and an average alcohol consumption of 9.2 drinks per week.

These adults were part of the BioBank in the United Kingdom, a database of genetic information. Researchers analyzed the genes of the adults in the study along with their health and medical histories.

Like previous studies, they found that low-to-moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of heart disease, even lower than the risk for non-drinkers.

But they also noticed that light-to-moderate drinkers had healthier lifestyles than non-drinkers and heavier drinkers. They were more likely to exercise regularly, eat plenty of vegetables, and abstain from smoking.

The observed benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, therefore, may actually be the result of good diet and exercise, not the alcohol consumption.

Analyzing the genes of the adults in the study, the researchers observed that people with genes associated with heavier drinking did, in fact, consume much more alcohol than people without those genes. They also had far more heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.

Alcohol's adverse effects were negligible for 0-7 drinks per week, more substantial for 7-14 drinks per week, and very significant for 21 drinks or more per week.

The study's authors say that risk of heart disease reduces with any reduction in alcohol consumption.

So, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or an occasional beer does not pose significant risk or offer much benefit for one's cardiovascular health.

Instead, exercise moderately on a fairly regular basis, eat vegetables every day, and don't smoke or hew tobacco.

There are few, if any, shortcuts to a healthy body.

Darn it.

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