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1-2 drinks of alcohol daily lowers risk of fatal heart disease by 20%, Harvard study finds

A study out of Harvard looking at over 50,000 participants has found that those who drink alcohol daily in moderation are linked to having a 20% lower chance of dying due to cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The group of researchers are set to present their findings at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session on May 17th.

The Harvard study is the first to show the link between moderate consumption of alcohol and reduced risk of fatal heart disease in relation to the reduction of stress-related brain signals.

“We found that stress-related activity in the brain was higher in non-drinkers when compared with people who drank moderately, while people who drank excessively (more than 14 drinks per week) had the highest level of stress-related brain activity. The thought is that moderate amounts of alcohol may have effects on the brain that can help you relax, reduce stress levels and, perhaps through these mechanisms, lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease,” said Kenechukwu Mezue, MD, a nuclear cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the lead author of the study.

The amygdala (red region) is the area of the brain responsible for emotional behavior.

“In the current study, path analyses showed that the link between moderate alcohol intake and lowered cardiovascular event risk is significantly mediated though reductions in amygdalar activity,” Mezue added.

The data was collected using the Mass General Brigham Biobank health care survey of 53,064 participants. Of these participants, 7,905 (15%) experienced a major adverse cardiovascular event: 17% in the low alcohol intake group and 13% in the moderate alcohol intake group. People who reported moderate alcohol intake were found to have a 20% lower chance of having a major event compared to low alcohol intake, and also had lower stress-related brain activity.

Alcohol intake was classified as low (<1 drink/week), moderate (1-14 drinks/week) or high (>14 drinks/week). Major adverse cardiovascular events were classified as heart attacks, stroke or related hospitalizations, or cardiovascular events that were determined using diagnostic (ICD) codes.

Mezue was quick to state that the results of this study should not encourage increased alcohol consumption, but rather be used to better understand the effects of stress-relieving activities and alternative therapeutics.

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