Having a drink or two a day actually does in fact decrease the risk of heart disease compared to those committed to a life of sobriety a new study shows. Persons who drink are 14 to 25% less likely to develop cardiovascular conditions compared to those who drink no alcohol at all. Of course a balance needs to be found between the public health message that consuming large amounts of alcohol is bad for you, and the one that drinking in moderation can have health benefits. Up to one drink a day for women, and one to two drinks a day for men should be the “norm” in most cases.
However the studies point out that alcoholism is a disabling addictive disorder. It is characterized by compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol despite its negative effects on the drinker’s health, relationships, and social standing. Like other drug addictions, alcoholism is medically defined as a treatable disease however.
Two studies were conducted in Canada to examine the benefits of liquor. The first, written by Dr. Paul Ronksley, reviewed 84 studies that looked at the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease. The studies compared alcohol drinkers with non-drinkers and their outcomes in relation to heart disease, death from heart disease, incidences of stroke and death from stroke. It concluded that people who drink alcohol in moderation are up to a quarter less likely to develop heart disease than those who don’t drink alcohol.
Dr. Susan Brien conducted a second study that reviewed 63 previous studies, and found that moderate consumption of alcohol significantly increases levels of “good” cholesterol, which has a protective effect against heart disease. As well, other heart disease markers, such as inflammation and blood vessel clotting, were also lower in moderate drinkers.
About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol, because high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack. Low levels of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL) also increase the risk of heart disease. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup.
The authors of both papers acknowledge that a number of previous studies have already concluded essentially the same thing: that moderate alcohol consumption appears to lower the risk of heart disease. But, they say there was need for a new review of the latest studies. This research is the most comprehensive to date, they say.
Dr. Ghali of the University of Calgary said in a news release from the journal’s publisher that the discussion about the impact of alcohol on heart disease should now centre “on how to integrate this evidence into clinical practice and public health messages.”
“With respect to public health messages, there may now be an impetus to better communicate to the public that alcohol, in moderation, may have overall health benefits that outweigh the risks in selected subsets of patients… any such strategy would need to be accompanied by rigorous study and oversight of impacts.”
Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.