No need to feel guilty about hitting the vino after work each night: a daily dose of alcohol is better for you than none at all. A new study has found that consuming seven drinks per week—the equivalent of one glass of wine or beer each night—can actually have a positive effect on the heart.
A major study of some 15,000 men and women found that moderate but frequent alcohol consumption in early to middle age could reduce the risk of heart failure—when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body at the right pressure—by 20 percent for men and 16 percent for women. Surely this is as good an endorsement as any to rekindle one’s romance with a good Rioja?
While there are, of course, a vast number of risks associated with drinking, this research has been more comprehensive than most: the team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed data from its participants over the course of 25 years, investigating their alcohol intake during three visits made every three years. They categorized people into six groups: abstainers (who consumed no alcohol in between visits), former drinkers, people who had up to seven drinks a week, those who consumed 7-14 drinks during that time, and those who drank more than 21 alcoholic beverages weekly.
Around 2,500 of the participants developed heart failure—which affects more than 23 million worldwide—over the course of the study, the lowest rates of which were present among the group consuming seven drinks each week. Those who identified as abstainers and participants in the group consuming 7-14 drinks weekly were found to have a near-identical likeliness of developing heart failure, further indication that being teetotal bears little impact on one’s risk of the ailment.
"These findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective,” explains Professor Scott Solomon, a senior physician at Brigham and Women’s who worked on the study. “No level of alcohol intake was associated with a higher risk of heart failure.”
This isn’t the first piece of research to suggest moderate drinking boosts your health: other studies undertaken over the past few years have found that alcohol can boost your libido, extend your life expectancy, decrease dementia and diabetes risks, and even prevent against the common cold. Is it time, then, to ditch the beer guilt?
For David Roop, a former drinker who works with newly sober people, the positive light these studies cast could be used as an excuse for heavy drinkers to continue their bad habits. “I find that these studies can be a double edged sword for self-acknowledged alcoholics as a warped reasoning to continue their practiced alcoholism,” he says. “While there are shown benefits to moderated alcohol consumption there are few, if any, health benefits for the alcoholic.” (The research found that those who had 21 or more drinks each week had an increased risk of death from any cause by up to 89 percent).
And this study doesn’t account widely enough for external influences, says one teetotaller who wished to remain anonymous. “This sort of research is hard to carry out and interpret; while the authors have tried to control for external factors, things like diet and lifestyle are very hard to take into account. For example, light or moderate drinkers may be more likely to have active social lives than abstainers and therefore be happier and more relaxed.”
While this is certainly true, the study’s vast numbers seem to be a fairly reliable green light for moderate alcohol consumption. “As a society we should always do more to encourage moderation, safe drinking habits and a safe drinking culture, which is promoted by studies such as these,” Roop adds.