Study Recommends Middle Age Drinking for Heart

People who start drinking in middle age are 38 percent less likely to have a heart attack or other heart related problems than abstainers, even if they are overweight, have diabetes, high BP or other heart risks, a US study published last Friday indicates.

 Dr. Dana E King

A research team headed by the lead author Dr. Dana E King, an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine of Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston studied the medical records of 7,697 men and women between the age of 45 and 64 who began as teetotallers, as part of a larger study. Over 10 years, 6 percent of these volunteers began drinking.

Over the next four years when the data of these new drinkers was compared to the persistent non-drinkers, there was a 38 percent drop in new cardiovascular disease, says the report published in the March issue of American Journal of Medicine. At the end of the study the researchers found that 10.7 per cent of the teetotallers had suffered some form of heart disease or stroke, compared to just 6.9 per cent of the moderate drinkers; women consuming an average of one alcoholic drink per day and the men having two.

The new drinkers were found to have significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol which clogs up arteries, and significantly higher level of good, HDL cholesterol, which helps to prevent clogging up of arteries. They also had lower blood pressure, which is in contrast to a recently published study in the British Public Library of Science journal, PLoS Medicine

Curiously, there was no difference in the number of deaths during the study, possibly because the study was too short to detect any decline through heart disease, or any increase because of cancer.

Many studies have shown that light to moderate drinkers are healthier than non drinkers or heavier drinkers, but in all such studies the researchers have cautioned against starting drinking with the objective of reducing the chance of heart diseases.

There may be a reason to change that thinking, feels the Professor, who is part of the research faculty at the university. 'This study certainly shifts the balance a little bit,' says King. 'While caution is clearly warranted, the current study demonstrated that new moderate drinking lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease,' he adds.

The findings suggest that, for carefully selected individuals, a 'heart healthy diet' may include limited alcohol consumption, even among individuals who have not included alcohol previously. However, 'Any such benefit must be weighed with caution against the known ill consequences of alcohol consumption.'

The findings held true even when the researchers factored in heart disease risks such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, race, education levels, exercise and cholesterol. Several volunteers had more than one risk factor and still benefited by drinking alcohol, adds King.

There was a much bigger benefit for wine-only drinkers, reports the study. Wine-only drinkers had 68 percent fewer cardiovascular events, whereas the drinkers of beer, liquor and mixed drinks had only a 21 percent benefit, said King.

However, he does not advise drinking freely or binge drinking as compared to the daily intake of wine in limited quantity.

Study advises against Binge Drinking

Indeed, another study published last week by researchers at the National Institute of Health found that how much and how often people drink affects their risk of death from several causes.

In a study of 44,000 people, they discovered that men who had five or more drinks on days they drank were 30 percent more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than men who had just one drink a day, regardless of what their average drinking intake was.

Writing in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the team at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Cancer Institute found that regular, moderate drinking was healthier than the occasional binge.

Even men who drank every single day of the year were 20 percent less likely to die of heart disease than men who drank just 1 to 36 days per year, if they drank moderately.

Drinking in moderation was also the advice stemming from MUSC study. For instance, the small number of teetotallers who had become heavy drinkers six years into the study was found 42 per cent more likely than the continued abstainers to have suffered cardiovascular disease.

Dr King warned that non-drinkers with a history of alcohol problems, liver disease, depression, gastric ulcers or other conditions worsened by alcohol should not take up drinking

Guidelines from the Food Standards Agency state that between one and two units of alcohol per day can help protect against heart disease. However, The American Heart Association says that it is not advisable for teetotallers to start drinking in middle age.

Incidentally, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South US. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.3 billion. Therefore, the study was in no way connected with any wine related grants.

While welcoming the latest findings, Indian Wine Academy takes exception to Reuters' headline Finally, a reason to start drinking alcohol. Although we recommend a daily intake of up to 2-3 glasses of wine for men and 1-2 glasses for women, we do not encourage anyone to start drinking wine or any other alcohol primarily for health reasons. Healthy diet and exercise can also protect one's heart. We recommend wine as a part of the healthy diet, provided one already imbibes alcohol. There is no reason to start drinking alcohol for health reasons alone, unless you wish to start for social reasons or as a part of lifestyle.

Cognisance must also be taken of the warning by Dr King that non-drinkers with a history of alcohol problems, liver disease, depression, gastric ulcers or other conditions worsen by alcohol and such people should not take up drinking. There are also a small percentage of people who, when they start to drink, will drink too much. - Editor




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