Take the edge off, grab a wine!

2 minute read

Drinking can improve heart health, but (unsurprisingly) it’s not encouraged.

Light to moderate drinking reduces risk of heart attack and other adverse cardiac events by lowering stress, new US research suggests.

The article, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found improved heart health in people who drank 1-14 drinks a week. This was compared to both heavy drinkers and minimal/non-drinkers.

Out of 50,000 people in the study, half were classified as light/moderate drinker and 2000 experienced a major adverse cardiac event over the 3.5 years average follow up.

The relationship between alcohol consumption and adverse cardiovascular event was found to be U-shaped, with approximately 5% decrease seen in the light/moderate drinkers group compared to non and heavy drinkers.

To explain the link, researchers investigated the association between drinking and brain activity known to be related to stress. The neuronal pathway, known as the stress-related neural network activity is the ratio of amygdala activity to the regulatory activity of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Stress-related brain activity was decreased in light/moderate drinkers, driven by reduced amygdala activity, theoretically explaining the decreased cardiovascular risk.

Immune and inflammatory activity may be the mechanism of action as stress-related brain activity was associated with inflammation in the arteries and increase white blood cell activity.

“These results suggest that light/moderate alcohol may reduce [major adverse cardiac events] through down-regulation of a neural-leukopoietic-arterial axis that otherwise potentiates CVD,” the authors said.

The benefits of alcohol on CVD risk were greater in those with diagnosed anxiety disorders.

The relationships remained robust when adjusted for other genetic factors, lifestyle factors and socioeconomic factors related to CVD risk. This included removal of non-drinkers from the calculations to account for the bias of non-drinkers potentially abstaining because of other health concerns.

Despite light/moderate drinking having a seemingly positive effect on heart health, the authors warned about going overboard.

“Although light/moderate alcohol consumption has repeatedly been found to associate with lower CVD risk (vs none/minimal consumption), the independence of this effect has been challenging to disentangle, and the mechanisms mediating this effect have not been clearly defined,” the authors said.

They warned alcohol’s other negative effects meant it could not be considered a viable intervention. Even light/moderate drinking was linked to cancer risk.

Unfortunately, a glass or two of wine in the evening might not be the answer to keeping your ticker ticking…

JACC 2023, online 20 June

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