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Drinking less ‘aids healthy heart’

Drinking less can help to improve the health of your heart, experts have said.

A reduction in alcohol consumption could improve the cardiovascular health of even light-to-moderate drinkers, research suggests.

The authors of the study, published in The British Medical Journal, challenged previous research which has suggested that light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol could actually have a protective effect for the heart.

The research, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with University College London and University of Pennsylvania in the US, examined 56 studies on drinking habits on more than quarter of a million people.

They found that people who carried a certain genetic variant associated with non-drinking and lower alcohol consumption had a “more favourable cardiovascular profile” than those without the ADH1B variant.

By using this genetic variant as an indicator of lower alcohol consumption, they were able to find associations between these individuals and improved cardiovascular health.

These people have a 10% lower risk of coronary heart disease, they found.

And carriers of the rs1229984 A-allele had lower blood pressure than non-carriers and a lower BMI, they added.

“These data show that individuals of European descent with a genetic predisposition to consume less alcohol had a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and ischaemic stroke, and lower levels of several established and emerging risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” the authors said.

“These findings suggest that reductions of alcohol consumption, even for light to moderate drinkers, may be beneficial for cardiovascular health.

“Our results therefore challenge the concept of a cardioprotective effect associated with light to moderate alcohol consumption reported in observational studies and suggest that this effect may have been due to residual confounding or selection bias.”

Senior author Juan Casas, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker.

“Assuming the association is causal, it appears that even if you’re a light drinker, reducing your alcohol consumption could be beneficial for your heart.”

Dr Shannon Amoils, senior research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study alongside the Medical Research Council, said: “Studies into alcohol consumption are fraught with difficulty in part because they rely on people giving accurate accounts of their drinking habits. Here the researchers used a clever study design to get round this problem by including people who had a gene that predisposes them to drink less.

“The results reinforce the view that small to moderate amounts of alcohol may not be healthy for the heart although the study would need to be repeated in a larger group of people for definitive results.”

Commenting on the research, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, added: “Gene markers are often a better way of assessing behaviour than unreliable questionnaires. However this study has limitations because people with genes for alcohol intolerance may also have other unmeasured behaviours or traits that reduce heart disease.”

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