The holidays mean indulgence; for a lot of us, it’s one of the best
parts of the season. But just as you may keep an eye on what you eat to
avoid extra holiday pounds, an important new study finds that it’s
also a good idea to keep drinking in check--now and year-round, when it
comes to your heart.
You probably already know that alcohol has long been associated with liver
damage; on the flip side, maybe you’ve read about research showing
that light to moderate drinking may help protect the heart. (The Centers
for Disease Control defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day
for women and up to two for men.) The upshot is that it can be hard to
know what to think about drinking.
A recent study published in the journal
BMJ now casts doubt on
any heart-healthy level of alcohol. And this isn’t just another study
about alcohol. This new analysis looked at 56 different studies that examined
drinking habits and cardiovascular health in more than 260,000 people.
Here’s what the
BMJ researchers found: Some people carry a gene called ADH1B that affects how
their body breaks down alcohol. In short, these folks are likelier to
become nauseous and flushed when they drink, making imbibing less pleasant
for them than for those who don’t have the gene. Not surprisingly,
ADH1B carriers tend to drink less.
What’s interesting is that the researchers found that this group
of low-level imbibers also had a 10% reduction in heart disease risk,
as well as lower blood pressure and lower Body Mass Index (an estimate
of body fat and an indicator of metabolic health). This led the study’s
authors to conclude that cutting back on alcohol—even if you’re
someone who doesn’t drink much—could still have important
benefits for your heart and your health. That’s something we can
all raise a (non-alcoholic) drink to.