Consistently Moderate Drinking Associated with a Lower Risk of Heart Disease

According to a study published in the journal BMC Medicine, consistently moderate drinking within recommended health guidelines may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

The study was conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge and University College London. They compared different groups of people and found that inconsistently moderate drinkers, former drinker and people who didn’t drink had a higher risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) when compared to consistently moderate drinkers who followed UK sensible drinking guidelines over ten years.

According to the study, half pints of beer or cider, small glasses of wine and a single serving of spirits were recorded as containing 8g of ethanol in the UK cohorts and 10g of ethanol in the French cohort. Moderate drinking was considered to be up to 168g/ethanol per week for men and up to 112g ethanol per week for women.

The corresponding author from University College London, Dr. Dara O’Neill, said: “This study uses long-term data to distinguish between persistent non-drinkers and former drinkers, allowing us to test the established theory that only the latter have an elevated risk of CHD. We did not find this to be the case but we did observe a sex-related difference. Amongst consistent non-drinkers, women showed higher risk of developing CHD compared to consistently moderate drinkers, but their male counterparts did not.”

The study involved 35,132 individuals in six cohorts. Among them, 1,718 (4.9%) developed coronary heart disease (CHD) and 325 (0.9%) were fatal. Former drinkers experienced the highest risk, 6.1% of them developed coronary heart disease (CHD) and 1.2% were fatal. Consistently heavy drinkers experienced the lowest risk, 3.8% of them developed coronary heart disease (CHD) and 0.6% were fatal. However, the authors pointed out that the data of consistently heavy drinkers were considerably doubtable due to an under-representation of heavy drinkers in the study sample, especially female heavy drinkers.

“Given that heavy drinkers are known to be under sampled in population level surveys, interpretation of the absence of effect amongst heavy drinkers in the current study should be done very cautiously, particularly in light of the known wider health impact of heavy alcohol intake levels.” Dr. O’Neill said, “When we split the sample by age, we found that the elevated risk of incident CHD amongst inconsistently moderate drinkers was observed in participants aged over 55, but not those aged below. It may be that the older group experienced lifestyle changes, such as retirement, which are known to co-occur with increases in alcohol intake and that these could have played a role in the differing risk.”

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