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Will a Little Drinking Help Your Heart? Maybe Not

MONDAY, March 28, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- If you believe an occasional tipple is good for your heart, a new study may make you reconsider the notion.

Some previous research has suggested that light drinking may benefit the heart, but this large study concluded that any amount of drinking is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, and that any supposed benefits of alcohol may actually be due to healthy lifestyle habits practiced among light and moderate drinkers.

"The findings affirm that alcohol intake should not be recommended to improve cardiovascular health; rather, that reducing alcohol intake will likely reduce cardiovascular risk in all individuals, albeit to different extents based on one’s current level of consumption," study senior author Dr. Krishna Aragam said in a Massachusetts General Hospital news release. He's a cardiologist at the hospital and an associate scientist at MIT's Broad Institute.

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 371,000 British adults who had an average of nine drinks a week.

As in previous studies, this new paper found that light to moderate drinkers had the lowest heart disease risk, followed by people who did not drink. People who drank heavily had the highest risk.

However, light to moderate drinkers tended to have healthier lifestyles than those who didn't drink, including more physical activity, more vegetables in their diet and less smoking.

Taking just a few healthy lifestyle factors into account made any benefit associated with alcohol less significant, according to the study published March 25 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The researchers also conducted a genetic analysis of samples from study participants and discovered substantial differences in heart risk from drinking, with minimal increases in risk when going from zero to seven drinks per week, much higher increases when going from seven to 14 drinks per week, and especially high risk with 21 or more drinks per week.

Significantly, the findings suggested a rise in heart risk even at levels of drinking considered "low risk" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (less than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women), the study authors noted.

The finding that the connection between heart risk and drinking is an exponential one rather than a linear one was supported by an additional analysis of data from more than 30,000 U.S. participants in the Mass General Brigham Biobank.

That means that reducing drinking can benefit even people who have just one alcoholic beverage per day, but the health benefits of cutting back may be more substantial in those who drink more, according to the researchers.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to a healthy heart.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, March 25, 2022

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