Recent genetic and medical study of 371,000 in United Kingdom concludes that no amount of alcohol is good for your heart

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Although observational studies have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption is good for your heart, a new genetic and medical study of 371,000 people in the United Kingdom determined that any level of alcohol consumption is linked with a higher risks of heart disease – and the more you drink, the greater the risk.

Not only does the study suggest that alcohol can lead to cardiovascular disease, there are “unequal and exponential increases in risk at greater levels of intake,” the researchers conclude. They said that “should be accounted for in health recommendations around the habitual consumption of alcohol.”

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that the risk of cardiovascular disease is “relatively modest” for those who consume up to seven drinks per week, but that risk increases exponentially with more alcohol.

The researchers question whether an average consumption of two drinks per day should be considered low-risk behavior and emphasize the need for “aggressive efforts to reduce alcohol intake among heavy drinkers.”

The researchers define light alcohol consumption as up to eight drinks per week; moderate consumption as 8 to 15 per week; heavy consumption as 15 to 24; and abusive consumption as more than 24 drinks per week.

While this study found that moderate drinkers have less heart disease than heavy drinkers or those who abstain, it suggested another cause for that: Those with light to moderate alcohol consumption also had healthier overall lifestyles, such as smoking less or not at all, exercising more, and eating healthier.

“The reported cardioprotective effects of light to moderate alcohol consumption may be the product of confounding lifestyle factors,” says the report.

The study looked at the connection between genes that are linked to alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease for more than 371,000 people who participate in the U.K. Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database that allows researchers to study participants’ genes and their relationship to health. Their average age was 57 and they reported consuming an average of 9.2 drinks per week.

Understanding your alcohol intake can help assess how alcohol may affect your health, Dr. Danielle Anderson, an addiction medicine specialist with UK HealthCare, said in a recent article titled, “When One More Drink Can be Dangerous to Your Health.”

Assessing alcohol intake starts with counting the number of “standard drinks” you have in a week, Anderson writes. A “standard drink” is a 12-ounce beer containing 5% alcohol, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor containing 40 percent alcohol (80 proof).

The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men of legal drinking age either abstain or limit intake to two drinks or less in a day, and that women abstain or limit intake to one drink or less in per day. The guidelines say drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse on Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming five drinks for men or four drinks for women on the same day within a couple hours.

If you have alcohol-use disorder, the current medical term for was once called alcoholism, treatments are available that include medications, therapy and involvement in mutual support programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or the Supportive Medication And Recovery Treatment (SMART), Anderson notes.
Anderson, an assistant professor in the UK Department of Psychiatry, advises, “Talk to your provider about your health conditions and medications prior to using alcohol. If you are drinking above the recommended amounts of alcohol, talk with your provider about your concerns.”
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