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Good Timing! Huge UK Study Supports Link Between Moderate Drinking and Cardiovascular Benefits

Results of just-published study of nearly 2 mil UK adults is very good news and not just because it takes some sting out of tuff Feb shipments #.  Recall, some public health advocates, researchers and govt officials have voiced increasing skepticism about the links between moderate drinking and heart health established over decades of research. But this very granular study of 1.9 mil adults over 13 yrs, using electronic and other patient health records, found non-drinkers had significantly higher risks than moderate drinkers (up to 2 drinks/day for men, 1.5/day for women), 23-33% higher in fact, for coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.  More specifically, non-drinkers had 32% higher risk for myocardial infarction, 24% higher risk for heart failure, 33% higher risk for unstable angina, 32% higher risk for aortic aneurysm and 12% higher risk for ischemic stroke.  Moderate drinkers did not have lower risks for every one of the 12 specific conditions investigated, the authors point out.   Heavier drinking levels, which lumped together all drinkers above those relatively modest limits, had higher risks for many of the specific cardiovascular diseases than non-drinkers, tho still lower risks for myocardial infarction and angina.  What’s more, non-drinkers had higher rates of all-cause mortality than moderate drinkers and occasional drinkers.

Despite the findings, the authors, per usual, went out of their way not to advise abstainers to consider the habit. “It could be argued that it would be unwise to encourage individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their risk…. This is because there are arguably safer and more effective ways of reducing cardiovascular risk, such as increasing physical activity and smoking cessation.”  Still, conclusion of this “most comprehensive study to date of the relation between alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease” is basically the same as many previous studies: light/moderate drinkers have lower risk for several significant cardiovascular diseases than abstainers.  Indeed, in an editorial comment in the same issue of British Medical Journal where the study appeared, Harvard’s Kenneth Mukamal points out that the new study supports work from “over four decades ago,” by Dr. Arthur Klatsky in California and “does not offer a materially new view” of the links between moderate drinking and cardiovascular health.  Rather, like the “old” view, new study reports “lower rates of essentially every meaningful cardiovascular outcome except hemorrhagic stroke among moderate drinkers than among abstainers.  Four decades of epidemiological studies have largely found the same.”  Perhaps the new study will reverse some of that growing “skepticism” noted above.  But don’t bet on it.

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 19
  • Issue #: 54
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