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Does moderate drinking really do the heart good? Probably not.

Is that glass of wine with dinner really good for your heart? Over the years, a number of studies have shown that adults who drink moderately have lower heart disease rates than non-drinkers.

But a new paper led by scientists at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research (CARBC) says probably not. The analysis, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, looked at 45 previous cohort studies and found flaws in the widely held belief. The main reason: “non-drinkers” may, in fact, be former drinkers who quit or cut down for health reasons.

“The study provides grounds for a healthy skepticism around the idea that moderate drinking is good for you,” says CARBC director Tim Stockwell.

“We know that people generally cut down on drinking as they age, especially if they have health problems,” Stockwell notes. “People who continue to be moderate drinkers later in life tend to be the healthier seniors. They’re not sick, or taking medications that can interact with alcohol.”

And in studies, this skew can lead to a misleading association between moderate drinking and better health. In its analysis, the team found that “current” moderate drinkers (up to two drinks per day) did, in fact, appear to have a lower rate of death from heart disease than non-drinkers.

However, that was not the case in studies that looked more deeply at people’s drinking habits at relatively young ages—age 55 or earlier—and which followed them into their older years when heart disease was more likely to occur. Similarly, studies that rigorously accounted for people’s baseline heart health indicated no benefits from moderate drinking.

However, no one is saying that people who enjoy alcohol in moderation should stop.

“The risks of low-level drinking are small,” Stockwell says. But, he adds, people should not drink because they believe it wards off disease. “The notion that one or two drinks a day is doing us good may just be wishful thinking.”

This publication, "Alcohol Consumption and Mortality from Coronary Heart Disease: An Updated Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies," is the latest in CARBC’s project looking at variation in the reported relationships between levels of alcohol consumption and different disease outcomes. The team conducted a similar review in 2016 looking at alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality.

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Media contacts

Tim Stockwell (Director, UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research) at 250-472-5445 or timstock@uvic.ca

For Chinese-speaking media only: Jinhui Zhao (Lead author and scientist, UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research) at 250-472-5935 or zhaoj@uvic.ca

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or sahearne@uvic.ca


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