Does moderate drinking protect your heart? A genetic study offers a new answer. – The Denver Post

By Gina Kolata, The New York Times

Last week, two patients asked Dr. Stanley L. Hazen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, how much daily alcohol consumption would be good for their cardiac health.

He gave them both well-accepted medical advice: An average of about one drink a day helps the heart.

“I didn’t give it a second thought,” he said.

Then he saw a paper published in JAMA Network Open whose findings upended his thinking about what to tell patients. The paper, he said, “totally changes my life.”

Its conclusion: There is no level of drinking that does not confer heart disease risk. The risk is small if people have an average of seven drinks a week when compared with none. But it increases quickly as the level of alcohol consumption rises.

“Dose matters a lot,” said Dr. Krishna G. Aragam, a preventive cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an author of the study. “Just realize that, as you go up beyond modest ranges, the risk goes up quite a bit.”

The study, which may help resolve medical disputes over the effects of alcohol on the heart, involved sophisticated analyses of the genes and medical data of nearly 400,000 people who participate in the UK Biobank, a British repository that investigators use to study genes and their relation to health. The average age of subjects selected for the alcohol study was 57, and they reported consuming an average of 9.2 drinks a week.

Some researchers have reported that drinking modestly protects the heart because moderate drinkers as a group have less heart disease than those who drink heavily or those who abstain. Aragam and his colleagues also saw that effect. But the reason, they report, is not that alcohol protects the heart. It is that light to moderate drinkers — those who consume up to 14 drinks a week — tend to have other characteristics that decrease their risk, like smoking less, exercising more and weighing less than those who drink more heavily and those who do not drink.

It’s not known why moderate drinkers tend to be more healthy than nondrinkers, Aragam said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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