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Moderate Drinking May Be Good if Your Heart Is Bad, New Research Suggests - Everyday Health

Evidence about alcohol’s effects on heart health — even among the general population — has been mixed. But new research indicates that drinking in moderation may not only be acceptable, but could have a slightly protective effect for people living with heart disease, according to a study published in BMC Medicine in July 2021.

Results of the study, which researchers say is currently the largest to examine the effects of alcohol in people with existing cardiovascular symptoms, indicate that light or even moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death for those with heart disease.

Specifically, averaging between three-and-a-half and seven drinks per week (of any kind of alcohol) was associated with a decreased risk of cardiac event recurrence and mortality from any cause compared with both heavy drinkers and nondrinkers. Sticking to the lower end of that range, or around three and a half drinks per week, offers nearly double the benefit and drops the risk of having another cardiovascular event by half. Having more than one drink daily did not offer any protection.

The study data was collected from over 14,000 people who had already had a heart attack, stroke, or angina, and who were followed for up to 20 years. Results from an additional 12 studies were added to the analysis to make a combined sample of over 48,000 people with an average age of 57.

RELATED: 5 Things Drinking Alcohol May Be Doing to Your Body

Contradicting Research on Alcohol and Heart Health

While the three-and-a-half drinks per week this study indicates could be beneficial are less than the recommendations given by the American Heart Association for generally healthy individuals (up to two drinks daily for men and one daily for women), they do suggest that even people with preexisting heart conditions may drink in moderation.

Can doing so actually help your overall health? “Honestly, it’s a solid maybe,” says Larry Burchett, MD, a emergency room doctor and board-certified family physician in Berkeley, California. Alcohol may have a positive impact on heart health through a variety of mechanisms, from lowering clotting factors and lipids, antioxidant activity, or possible anti-inflammatory effects, Dr. Burchett says. But there’s still much we don’t know, so rather than taking up or increasing drinking to prevent or to treat heart disease, he recommends diet, exercise, and medication as prescribed by a doctor, all of which are more effective and proven approaches.

RELATED: Dos and Don’ts for Heart Health  

Imbibing Responsibly

This study, however, may give those with heart issues confidence to take a few sips of their favorite drink without feeling like they’re harming their health, says Emmanuela Gakidou, MSc, PhD, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. If you do enjoy imbibing occasionally, it is important to note that one serving of alcohol is defined as one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of liquor. Many alcoholic beverages today come in large sizes and can vary greatly in alcohol by volume (ABV), so it’s still important to be careful about how much you’re actually drinking. Likewise, one drink per day weekly won’t have the same effect as seven drinks one day a week.

It is also important to take into account other health risks you may have outside of cardiovascular disease. Previous research indicates that alcohol consumption may increase the risk of conditions such as liver problems, according to a review and meta-analysis published in October 2019 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology , and certain cancers, per the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, so if you have a history of those, you may not want to drink, even in moderation.