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
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
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
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