A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that light to moderate alcohol consumption is linked to reductions in the brain’s stress activity, and therefore may be associated with lower risk of heart disease. Light to moderate drinking was characterised as 1-14 drinks a week.
The study was widely covered across UK media, however many of the headlines failed to include any nuance regarding the study findings and limitations. The following quotes are expert reactions, including from one of the study authors.
Senior author of the study, Dr Ahmed Tawakol, said:
“We are not advocating the use of alcohol to reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes because of other concerning effects of alcohol on health. We wanted to understand how light to moderate drinking reduces cardiovascular disease, as demonstrated by multiple other studies.”
Prof Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow criticised the methodology:
“The issue is we know any amount of alcohol is associated with strokes and heart failure, and with increases in cancer and deaths from cardiovascular causes.
So to concentrate only on one small aspect, even if true, gives the wrong impression and the title of better heart health with light to moderate alcohol is misleading and perpetuates old myths we really need to move on from.”
Prof Petra Meier and Dr Sadie Boniface both pointed out that the study hadn’t taken all confounders into consideration, with Prof Meier stating:
“The study was able to include some of these factors but not comprehensively. For example, neither lifetime alcohol consumption history nor ethnicity were included.”
Dr Boniface added that:
“There are many health different effects of alcohol. In this study, higher rates of cancers were noted among moderate drinkers, and poorer cognitive health was also seen among people with higher levels of alcohol use. This fits with what we know from other studies.”