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August 31, 2017

The Perks of Moderate Drinking?

Moderate alcohol consumption seems to bring health benefits. But heavy drinking is a killer.

Excessive drinking has been linked to a variety of health issues, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. But consumed in moderate amounts, alcohol may actually be beneficial to your health.

“A delicate balance exists between the beneficial and detrimental effects of alcohol consumption, which should be stressed to consumers and patients,” said Bo Xi, lead author of a new study that found light-to-moderate drinking offers some protective effects against overall mortality, while heavy drinking can lead to an early death.

“There is a thin line between beneficial effects and detrimental effects of alcohol consumption.”

The researchers looked at survey data from over 330,000 people who were 18 years of age or older. Participants were categorized into six groups based on their self-reported alcohol consumption: lifetime abstainers, lifetime infrequent drinkers, former drinkers, and current light, moderate and heavy drinkers.

After a follow-up period of eight years, about 35,000 participants died of all causes, including nearly 9000 deaths from CVD and 8500 deaths from cancer. The researchers found that men who were heavy drinkers had a 25 percent increased mortality risk from all causes and a 67 percent increased mortality risk from cancer. They did not see any significant increase in all-cause or cancer mortality risk among women who were heavy drinkers. No significant increase in CVD mortality risk was seen among men or women who were heavy drinkers.

Men who were moderate drinkers had a 13 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality and a 21 percent decreased risk of CVD mortality. Women who were moderate drinkers had a 25 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality and a 34 percent decreased risk of CVD mortality. Men and women who were light drinkers had the same reduced risk of all-cause and CVD mortality as moderate drinkers.

The take-home message is simple, Sreenivas Veeranki, corresponding author on the study, told TheDoctor: “If you do not drink, do not start. But if you are a drinker, drink with caution. There is a thin line between beneficial effects and detrimental effects of alcohol consumption.”

Young adults should not expect much benefit from moderate drinking, Giovanni de Gaetano wrote in an accompanying editorial, but for most older adults, the benefits of light drinking outweigh possible cancer risk.

Veeranki, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and his team hope to follow the effects of different types of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, spirits) on mortality risk. Future research will also examine the association between alcohol consumption and deaths from different causes.

The study and the accompanying editorial are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
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