Alcohol and heart health: the latest updates

September 6, 2010 by  

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Alcohol. Is it or is it not good for our health? Over the years, there have been hundreds of studies investigating this topic but the results have been contradictory. Below, we look at 3 of the most recent studies and what they have to say.

More evidence of benefit of light/moderate drinking
In a large study of 245,000 Americans, researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston report that light to moderate alcohol consumption is actually better than complete abstention when it comes to benefits for cardiovascular health. According to the authors:

“These data bolster previous epidemiological studies that have found lower rates of incident cardiovascular disease among moderate drinkers but also provide cautionary evidence that drinking above recommended limits eliminates this risk reduction.”

Binge drinking heightens death risk in those with high blood pressure
Binge drinking? Watch your blood pressure! This is according to Korean researchers at the Yonsei University in Seoul. Heavy drinking brings you closer to the grave. And the main effect of too much alcohol is on the cardiovascular health, especially on the blood pressure. Thus those with hypertension should especially be careful because binge drinking increases their risk of dying 12-fold.

The study participants consisted of 6100 residents of Kangwha County. The authors defined binge drinking as having six or more alcoholic drinks within a short period of time. Based on this classification, 20.4% of the study participants are actually binge drinker. Although the cardiovascular mortality risk increased with heavy drinking, the specific risk for stroke is not increased.

Does drinking alcohol temporarily heighten stroke risk?
Ok, so heavy drinking is bad for the health, that is clear. And light to moderate alcohol consumption can actually do one some good. Or does it? Results from the Stroke Onset Study indicate that even 1 single alcoholic drink can double the risk of ischemic stroke 1 hour after its consumption. The researchers looked at 390 patients who were hospitalized for stroke. The patients were interviewed about their activities and alcohol consumption during the hours before stroke attack as well as their habitual drinking pattern. The interview revealed that 3.6% of interviewees consumed alcohol an hour before stroke symptoms started, 27% imbibed within 24 h, and 64% within the year prior to their stroke. Statistical analysis showed that alcohol, no matter how little, increases the risk for a stroke even within 1 hour of consumption.

Alas, which study results do we believe? In research, the bigger the sample size, the more robust and reliable the data that come out. The third study, with its preliminary data from less than 400 participants is less credible than the first one with almost 250,000.

For me, the safest bet is to stick to light alcohol consumption and avoid heavy binge drinking. And that is what I do.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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