Low-volume alcohol drinking is not associated with protection against death from all causes (JAMA Netw Open, Mar 2023;6(3):e236185). An analysis of 107 studies involving more than 4.8 million participants found no significant reductions in death rates for those who drank fewer than 25 grams of alcohol per day (two standard drinks) compared with lifetime nondrinkers. The death risk was increased in women who drank 25 or more grams per day and among male drinkers who drank 45 or more grams per day. The study found no increased risk for occasional drinkers.
The World Heart Federation reported that taking one drink a day does not help to prevent heart attacks (Clinical Nutrition, Feb 1, 2022;41(2):348-355). A study of 371,463 individuals found that no amount of alcohol helps prevent heart disease, and the more you drink, the greater your chance of suffering a heart attack (JAMA Netw Open, March 2022;5(3):e223849).
Flaws in Studies Showing that Light Drinking Reduces Heart Attacks
For many years, the alcoholic beverage industry has promoted studies showing that moderate drinkers live slightly longer than non-drinkers, but the non-drinking groups in these studies have included people who gave up alcohol on their doctors’ instructions: those with high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, some types of cancer, diseases of the heart, kidney, liver or lungs or other health problems, as well as recovering alcoholics. A study with a 20-year-follow-up of 4,028 18-to-64-year-old adults found that when the people who had stopped drinking for medical reasons were removed from the control group, moderate drinkers did not live longer than non-drinkers (PLoS Medicine, Nov 2, 2021;18(11):e1003819). An analysis of 45 earlier studies showed that those associating moderate drinking of alcohol with reduced heart attacks rates needed better control groups (J Stud Alcohol and Drugs, May 17;78(3):394-403).
Alcohol and Heart Damage
Alcohol intake has been linked to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, weakened heart muscle and irregular heartbeats, all of which can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes (Alcohol Clin Exp Res, Dec 2015;39(12):2334–2344). Drinking any amount of alcohol is associated with increased risk for irregular heartbeats or atrial fibrillation (European Heart J, March 21, 2021;42(12):1170-1177). A study of 79,000 Swedish adults, aged 45-83, followed for up to 12 years, showed that those who drank any amount of wine or liquor daily were at increased risk for atrial fibrillation, an abnormally fast heartbeat that can cause clots, strokes and heart failure (J American College of Cardiology, July 14, 2014).
People who take just one drink a day are at increased risk for heart disease (J American College of Cardiology, December 5, 2016) and enlarged upper heart and irregular heartbeats that cause clots and strokes (J Am Heart Assoc, Sep 14, 2016;5:e004060; J Am Coll Cardiol, 2016;68(23):2567-2576). Binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a single bout, increased risks even more. Data from six studies including more than 12,500 cases of atrial fibrillation showed that each additional drink per day of any type of alcohol boosted risk of irregular heartbeat by eight percent (J Am Coll Card, July 14, 2014). Many other studies have associated drinking alcohol with atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, heart failure and strokes. Association is not cause, but I believe that these studies give reason for caution.
Many people have the mistaken belief that it is safe for women to take up to one drink per day and for men to take up to two drinks per day. Almost 30 percent of North Americans drink more than that. Most studies of alcohol consumption show that no amount of alcohol is “safe” or beneficial. Whatever you decide about your own consumption of alcohol, do not base your decision on bad information from the alcoholic beverage industry. Occasional drinking probably will not harm you, but repeated drinking increases your risk for many different cancers, heart attacks and strokes.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com