For many, having a glass of wine with dinner or enjoying a drink with friends after work is an easy way to end the day. And while it’s clear that limiting your intake is essential, there may be a surprising benefit to partaking in the occasional libation. In fact, a recent study has found that having a few drinks could slash your risk of a heart attack. Read on to see how much alcohol could lower your chances of cardiovascular disease.
The latest research comes from a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology on Oct. 28, in which a team of scientists hoped to provide more insight into the relationship between moderate alcohol intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease. But since most existing research focuses on younger individuals and excessive drinking is widely linked to severe illness and mortality globally, the study authors wrote that they “sought to investigate the risk of CVD events and all-cause mortality associated with alcohol consumption in initially healthy, older individuals.”
To test their theory, researchers used data from about 18,000 participants in the U.S. and Australia over 70 who had no prior history of cardiovascular disease, dementia diagnosis, or a disability that limited their independence. Each was then asked how much alcohol they consumed per week, establishing that one drink for American participants was considered to be 14 grams per serving and 10 grams for Australians. By American measures, it was found that 18.6 of participants ingested no alcohol every week; 37.3 percent reported up to 3.5 drinks per week; 19.7 percent reported 3.5 to seven alcoholic beverages per week; 15.6 percent counted 7 to 10 drinks per week; and 8.9 percent reported drinking more than ten alcoholic beverages per week.
When cross-analyzed with health data collected over a 4.7 year follow-up period, it was found that participants in the groups who drank 3.5 beverages, between 3.5 and seven drinks, and between seven and ten drinks of alcohol per week were at an overall reduced risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack, stroke, or heart failure compared to those who never drank alcohol. The findings also held regardless of the gender of the participant.
While results showed that moderate alcohol consumption saw a reduced risk of heart disease overall, it also revealed there might be a specific number that could add years to your life. That’s because data showed the group that consumed 3.5 to seven drinks per week also saw a reduced risk of death for any reason compared to participants in other groups.
The research team concluded that their findings “Modest alcohol intake in this group of healthy older adults was not harmful for [cardiovascular disease] or overall mortality,” Johannes Neumann, MD, the study’s lead researcher and a cardiologist from Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, in Australia, said in a media release. “Further research is warranted to evaluate causal biological effects of alcohol on health and possible behavioral advantages of social drinking and engagement,” he added.
While the study does contain some interesting observations, the authors caution that they need to be taken in context. Neumann warned that participants were healthy to begin with and may have had more physically and socially active lifestyles, while also pointing out that alcohol consumption is also linked with other serious ailments such as liver disease, pancreatitis, and cancer.
“To get the positive benefits, you’d need to be a very moderate drinker in an ongoing way,” Deni Carise, PhD, the chief scientific officer at Recovery Centers of America, told Healthline. “A lot of people don’t drink that way.”
But it’s not just your heart health: other research has found that limiting your alcohol intake could also boost your brain health and stave off dementia. One study published in The BMJ in June of 2018 followed 9,087 participants, who were between 35 and 55 years old at the beginning of the study, over the course of 23 years. Results found that people who regularly drank more than 14 drinks during a seven-day period had higher rates of dementia than those who drank between one to 14 drinks weekly.
The study’s authors also found that individuals who drank under 14 drinks a week were more likely to drink wine, while those who drank more than 14 drinks a week were more likely to drink beer. “Overall, no evidence was found that alcohol consumption between 1 unit/week and 14 units/week increases the risk of dementia,” the study’s authors explained.
However, increasing by as little as a single drink a day could make the probability of future cognitive impairment soar. Results found that among individuals who typically drank more than 14 drinks in a week, increasing that number by just seven drinks was linked to a 17 percent increase in dementia risk. An increase of seven weekly drinks was also associated with a higher risk of alcohol-related hospital admission among study participants.