Health In Focus
  • Moderate alcohol intake lowers the risk of angina, heart failure and ischemic stroke.
  • Moderate intake of alcohol refers to 112gms of alcohol per week which is equivalent to seven pints of lager or beer.
  • It is not advisable to consume alcohol, if you are not used to it, and it is wise to cut down the intake to less than 14 units, if you enjoy drinking.

Alcohol intake and its effect on heart health is a long-debated topic. A large study of UK adults published by The BMJ finds that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of several, but not all, cardiovascular diseases.

Moderate drinking is not universally associated with a lower risk of all cardiovascular conditions. However, it increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, heart attack and congestive heart failure.
Moderate Alcohol Intake Can Lower Risk From Certain Heart Diseases

An Observational Study

The impact of alcohol intake was examined by analyzing electronic health records for 1.93 million healthy UK adults, as part of the CALIBER (Clinical research using Linked Bespoke studies and Electronic health Records) data resource.

Twelve of the most common manifestations of cardiovascular disease that was associated with moderate drinking are:
  • Chronic stable angina, unstable angina or chest pain is a discomfort that occurs if an area of your heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood
  • Myocardial infarction: MI or heart attack is disruption of blood supply to the heart usually by a blood clot.
  • Unheralded death from coronary heart disease
  • Heart failure: This isoften referred to ascongestive heart failure(CHF), which occurs when theheartis unable to pump sufficiently, thereby failing to maintainthe blood flowto meet the body's needs. A previousheart attack,high blood pressure,atrial fibrillation,valvular heart disease,excess alcohol use,infection, andcardiomyopathyof an unknown cause, can trigger a change in the heart's structure resulting in heart failure.
  • Cardiac arrest /sudden coronary death: Sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness.
  • Transient ischaemic attack: A mini stroke which lasts for 24 hours and occurs due to temporary disruption in the blood supply to various parts of the brain.
  • Ischemic stroke: Obstruction within ablood vessel supplying blood to the brain due to development of fatty deposits lining the vessel walls.
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage: Cranial bleeding takes place when a diseased blood vessel within the brain bursts and the blood leaks inside the brain. Hypertension is the most common cause of this kind of hemorrhage.
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: Bleeding within the space between the brain and the tissues that cover it.
  • Peripheral arterial disease: Build up of plaque that blocks the arteries which supply blood to the head and limbs.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm: Swelling of the aorta-the main blood vessel thatleadsfrom the heart through the abdomen into the rest of the body.
At the start of the study, all participants were free from heart disease. Those who consumed alcohol were categorized into former drinkers, occasional drinkers and non-drinkers.

The risk of angina, heart failure and ischemic stroke was lower among moderate drinkers compared to those who abstained from alcohol.

Heart disease does not refer to a single condition. There are various types of heart diseases, of which coronary artery disease (affecting the blood flow to the heart) is most common. Coronary artery disease is associated with angina pectoris or chest pain and atherosclerosis which is hardening or narrowing of the arteries resulting in disrupted blood flow.

How much is too much?

A unit denotes 10ml or 8gms of alcohol. Moderate drinking is defined as 14 units of alcohol per week. Heavy drinking is more than 14 units of alcohol.

The14-unit recommended maximum is equivalent to a little more than nine small 125ml glasses of wine, 14 single measures of spirits or seven pints of lager or beer.

How is moderate drinking helpful?

Moderate drinking increases HDL cholesterol which transports the fat in the cells to the liver for storage and reduces the risk of heart disease.

However, it is not wise to take up the habit of drinking alcohol just because it lowers the risk of certain heart disease. Rather, staying physically active, smoking cessation and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of all heart diseases.

Why is excessive drinking harmful?

Heavy drinking, defined as more than 112 grams per week is known to reduce elasticity of arteries, making it stiff and interfering with the blood flow.
Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Increases the risk for alcohol dependency, cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and obesity, stroke, certain types of cancer, suicide and accidents.
  • Affects the elasticity of the arterial walls (arterial stiffness), interfering with the blood flow
  • Results in prematurely aged arteries, increasing the risk for heart disease.
  • Activates certain enzymes that would lead to collagen accumulation, which could, in turn exacerbate the rate of arterial stiffening.
Heavy drinkers are at a lower risk of heart attack and angina compared to moderate drinkers. The authors explain that heavy drinkers may experience a heart attack in the future but it may not be the first diagnosis.

Study Limitations

The study is an observational one and hence no firm conclusions can be drawn on the cause and effect. The authors point out that it is the first time this association has been investigated on such a large scale.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the US say this study "does not offer a materially new view of the associations between alcohol consumed within recommended limits and risk of cardiovascular disease."

"This work, however, sets the stage for ever larger and more sophisticated studies that will attempt to harness the flood of big data into a stream of useful, reliable, and unbiased findings that can inform public health, clinical care, and the direction of future research," they conclude.

  1. Alcohol Consumption and Heart Failure - (

Source: Medindia

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