A new report released July 10 in The BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) debunks decades of misinformation about alcohol's heart-health benefits. According to researchers, even a single glass of wine or beer can be damaging to the heart.
The University College London and Pennsylvania University conducted no new experiments or studies Scientists instead analyzed 50 studies that looked at drinking habits and heart health, with data from more than a quarter-million people. They conclude: less alcohol is the only sure way to improve and protect heart health.
Despite connection to more than 60 diseases including alcoholism, some studies have previously suggested moderate amounts of alcohol could be good for heart health. These studies were dealt a blow in March 2013 when the journal Addiction concluded that such health claims were based on observational studies, not evidence-based ones, and amounted to little more than wishful thinking. (See “Alcohol's health benefits deemed wishful thinking”) The authors of the new study concur. “We now have evidence that some of these studies suffer from limitations that may affect the validity of their findings," said study author Juan Casas, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
"The best thing to do is to reduce consumption to reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease," said Casas. "We expect that these findings will help to simplify policymaking about alcohol consumption."
Data compiled for the 2012 alcoholism recovery book, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, also found alcohol had more heart-damaging impact that life-giving benefit. “Alcohol itself raids the body of vitamin B (Thiamin) which is essential for a healthy heart. B-deficiency enlarges the heart and creates distended neck veins, narrow pulse pressure, elevated diastolic blood pressure (the second number in your BP) and peripheral edema. Acetaldehyde [alcohol metabolism byproduct] also physically weakens muscle, the heart being your body’s most important one. The weakening causes damage that accumulates.”
Acetaldehyde also increases cholesterol, especially triglycerides. High cholesterol is a leading indicator of heart trouble on the horizon and the number one condition treated with prescription drugs in the U.S.
Even modest alcohol consumption can cause blood pressure to increase, according to two studies conducted in Japan. Noriyuki Nakanishi, M.D., Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan and lead author of one of the studies, concluded that even very low alcohol consumption can be a health risk, especially older adults. Nakanishi and his research team observed that systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) went up 1.4 points in those between the ages of 25 and 35, but increased 5.4 points for men between the ages of 48 and 59, for just 12g-22g of alcohol per day. A glass of wine contains about 20g alcohol on average.
In the second of the two studies, researchers from Kyushu University followed more than 1,100 people over age 40 for 10 years. One hundred men and 106 women developed hypertension, with the risk of developing hypertension higher for drinkers, even those who drank less than 23 grams daily. Both Japanese studies were published in the journal Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Quitting drinking has the expected benefit of reducing blood pressure. In one study reported in the journal Hypertension, researchers concluded that a reduction in alcohol intake among drinkers significantly reduced their blood pressure. They found that when alcohol consumption fell by 16 to 100 percent, there were significant drops in systolic blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure also dropped significantly in eight clinical trials. The greatest drop in blood pressure was seen in patients with the highest blood pressure before treatment and those who cut back on alcohol the most. However, the Mayo Clinic warns, “Heavy drinkers who want to lower blood pressure should slowly reduce how much they drink over one to two weeks. Heavy drinkers who stop suddenly risk developing severe high blood pressure for several days.”
Like all alcoholic drinks, wine contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain — another risk factor for high blood pressure. For the wine drinker, dry wine contains fewer calories than sweet: 106 calories for five ounces of dry wine and champagnes… double it for five ounces of sweeter wines. A glass of wine before dinner, another glass with dinner and a sweet wine for dessert, that’s more than 400 calories in addition to the meal.