Can a glass of wine a day protect your heart?

We’ve been hearing it for years – a glass of wine with dinner is good for your heart. For those who love a drop of red or white in the evening, it’s an attractive statement, and one that we dearly hope is based on fact.

But is it really true, and if so, why?

Well, the good news is, it is true. But that good news comes with a rider.

It does indeed appear that those who drink moderately, as a group, have a lower incidence of heart disease than those who drink heavily or those who abstain. On the surface, that appears to be a recommendation for those who don’t drink to begin doing so in moderation.

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But new research reveals there’s more to it. In a large study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers found that alcohol intake at all levels was linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

While this might appear contradictory, the analysis conducted in the study, which involved 371,463 adults, managed to separate other aspects of health when examining the effects of alcohol on the heart.

What this revealed in effect was that the reason those who drank in moderation had better outcomes than those who did not drink at all was because they have a healthier lifestyle in other areas.

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Effectively what that means is, if you go from abstaining to drinking a glass a day without changing any other aspects of your lifestyle, your risk of heart problems will, in fact, increase, albeit by a small margin.

The risk then increases at a much faster rate once the consumption rate rises beyond one drink per day.

Published by a research team at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the findings suggest that the supposed benefits of alcohol consumption may actually be attributed to other lifestyle factors that are common among light to moderate drinkers.

The 371,463 adults who participated in the study had an average age of 57, and an average alcohol consumption of 9.2 drinks per week. They were part of the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information.

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One of the features of the study was the use of a method called Mendelian randomisation. This method uses genetic variants to determine whether an observed link between an exposure and an outcome is consistent with a causal effect – in this case, whether light alcohol consumption causes a person to be protected against cardiovascular disease.

Krishna G. Aragam, one of the study’s senior authors, said this technique demonstrated that any suggestion increasing alcohol intake could be beneficial was incorrect.

“The findings affirm that alcohol intake should not be recommended to improve cardiovascular health; rather, that reducing alcohol intake will likely reduce cardiovascular risk in all individuals, albeit to different extents based on one’s current level of consumption,” he said.

For those of you out there who do not drink, drinking a glass of wine a day will not invoke any heart health benefits. And for those who are having a glass a day already, you may be slightly increasing your risk of heart disease. Moderation remains the key.

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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