Alcohol: Are the Heart-Health Benefits Real?
Is moderate alcohol use generally safe? Are the purported health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption real? Or is all alcohol dangerous and to be avoided? These are questions with vague and controversial answers.
There has been a great deal of contradictory information released about the pros and cons of drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. Some authorities swear by the benefits of a daily glass of red wine for example, yet other experts claim even a small amount damages brain cells.
What do we really know and what does the science say about moderate alcohol use and heart-health?
When it comes to the purported cardio-protective benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, the scientific world is divided into believers and skeptics and there are abundant data to support both points of view.
According to the American Heart Association, drinking alcohol increases the risks of developing high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents. Furthermore, it is not possible to predict which people will develop alcohol abuse problems. Given these and other risks, the American Heart Association cautions people not to start drinking, if they do not already drink alcohol. One drink for women and two for men is the maximum recommended daily amount.
Research has not provided proof for alcohol as the cause of cardiovascular improvement; randomized trails did not support claims. Dr. Rob Califf from Duke University Medical Center said, “It’s important to separate pure speculation supported by partial data from proven fact with clear evidence.” He believes that alcohol “may” help in reducing cardiovascular events, but that more study is needed.
In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 % of all global deaths, were attributed to alcohol consumption by the World Health Organization. Alcohol consumption is also a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. We do know that consumed regularly and at high levels, alcohol is not safe and contributes to illness, injury, and premature death.
As for a glass of wine promoting heart health, we simply don’t know. If you enjoy a reasonable, occasional glass of wine with a meal or a beer with friends, do so knowing that there are some health risks, similar to knowing that when you indulge in a couple of pieces of fried chicken, you’re splurging and perhaps not doing your body the best good.