Science Gazette

Even moderate drinking might be hazardous to one’s health

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Alcohol use in tiny amounts has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, according to research.

According to recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, drinking less than the UK’s recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol per week still increases the risk of cardiovascular disorders such as heart and cerebrovascular disease.

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) researchers used data from the UK Biobank project to look at hospitalizations associated to cardiovascular events among more than 350,000 UK individuals aged 40 to 69.

A total of 333,259 persons who used alcohol were included in the study. Participants were quizzed on their general weekly alcohol use as well as their consumption of particular forms of alcohol such as beer, wine, and spirits. Those who took part in the study were tracked for a median of seven years, documenting all episodes in which patients were hospitalized due to cardiovascular problems.

Anyone who had previously experienced a cardiovascular incident, as well as former drinkers and those who had not completed the alcohol consumption questionnaire, were excluded from the study.

The study revealed that for people who consumed fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week — the recommended limit by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers — each extra 1.5 pint of beer at 4% strength (alcohol by volume) was linked to a 23% greater chance of having a cardiovascular incident.

According to the authors, flaws in current epidemiological research have led to widespread adoption of the “J-shaped curve,” which incorrectly implies that low to moderate alcohol use is good to cardiovascular health.

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These biases include using non-drinkers as a reference group when many do not drink due to existing poor health, pooling all drink types when determining an individual’s alcohol intake, and embedding the lower risk of coronary artery disease observed among wine drinkers, potentially distorting the overall cardiovascular risk from the drink.

Dr. Rudolph Schutte, the primary author and course supervisor for the BSc Hons Medical Science program at ARU, said:

“The so-called J-shaped curve of the cardiovascular disease-alcohol consumption association, which suggests that low to moderate alcohol intake is beneficial to one’s health, is the largest fallacy since we were taught smoking was good for one’s health.”

“Beer, cider, and spirit users, in particular, had an elevated risk of ending up in the hospital due to a cardiovascular incident affecting the heart or blood vessels, even if they consumed less than 14 units per week.” While wine drinkers are said to have a decreased risk of coronary artery disease, our research demonstrates that their risk of other cardiovascular events is not lowered.

“Biases in epidemiological data obscure or undervalue the risks associated with alcohol drinking.” When these biases are taken into consideration, the negative consequences of even moderate alcohol intake become apparent.

“Avoiding these biases in future studies would help to clarify the situation and, perhaps, lead to a stronger set of recommendations, with the existing alcohol advice being decreased.”

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