Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of mortality in Europe (47% of total mortality) and one of the main causes of death worldwide (31% of all worldwide deaths). The influence of modifiable risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, or poor diet, has been the object of investigation since the 1950s, and studies, such as the Framingham Heart Study or the INTERHEART study, have shown that 90% of acute myocardial infarctions (AMIs) are attributable to potentially reversible risk factors, making the reduction of CV risk factors a high priority at the national and global levels.
New studies suggest that moderate consumption of alcohol may reduce the risk of recurrent cardiovascular events. People with cardiovascular disease who drink may experience a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, angina, or death from cardiovascular causes if they consume 7-8 alcoholic drinks per week according to some studies. Also, people who consumed 6 ounces (oz) of alcohol per day lowered their risk by 50% compared to people with CVD who do not drink.
A standard alcoholic drink in the U.S. contains 14 grams (g) of alcohol. Since different potables contain different percentages of alcohol, a single drink in the United States would be:
- 12 oz of beer, which is roughly 5% alcohol
- 5 oz of wine, about 12% alcohol
- 1.5 oz of distilled spirits, typically about 80% alcohol.
Different studies have concluded that low to moderate consumption of alcohol may be beneficial at reducing the risk of major adverse CV events, excessive alcohol on the other hand increases the risk of CVD and is associated with increased risk of more than 50 diseases.
A study performed by Chiva-Blanch G, et al, showed that the relationship between alcohol consumption and CVD is in general biphasic, being protective at low and moderate amounts and detrimental at high intakes and that current evidence supports that low amounts of alcohol even occasionally consumed are safe and beneficial for the CV system.
The maximum benefit of alcohol consumption seen, a 50% lower risk of CV events was experienced by people who drank just 6 g of alcohol daily compared to people with CVD who did not drink.
For people who consumed 7 g of alcohol, just one more daily gram of alcohol, the reduction in risk for all-cause mortality dropped significantly to 21%. Curiously, drinking 1 additional gram of alcohol beyond that produced a slightly better result: for people drinking 8 g of alcohol per day, the reduction of cardiovascular mortality was 27%.
The question remains: to drink or not to drink? This remains with no appropriate answer. What studies have shown is that it would be wise to suggest low to moderate alcohol consumption among current drinkers and never recommending drinking in order to improve health outcomes, mainly because of other factors like propensity to alcohol dependence, collateral social harms and family history of some cancers.
Chiva-Blanch G, Badimon L. Benefits and Risks of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on Cardiovascular Disease: Current Findings and Controversies. Nutrients. 2019;12(1):108. Published 2019 Dec 30.