Is Any Amount of Alcohol Good For Us?
Aug. 29, 2014 -- To drink or not to drink? It's a question not easily answered, at least when it comes to our health.
Although we’ve heard for years that moderate drinking is good for our hearts, several recent studies have questioned that long-held belief. And earlier this year, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning about cancer and alcohol. No amount of alcohol is safe, the report said.
So, if any alcohol raises our cancer risk, and if it might not offer a real benefit to our hearts, should we be drinking at all?
Cardiologist Michael Shapiro, DO, is not convinced that any amount of alcohol is good for us.
“It’s a common perception that alcohol, and red wine in particular, is helpful for the heart, but that perception is not based on any particularly good evidence,” Shapiro says. “If there is any benefit from alcohol -- and that’s not entirely clear -- it’s probably modest.”
Shapiro, who practices at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, says that much of the research touting alcohol’s heart health benefits doesn't show cause and effect. Does alcohol itself protect against heart attacks, or does the lower risk stem from some other factor or combination of factors? It’s not known.
“People who drink moderately also may have certain socio-economic factors and behavior patterns that promote health, and we’ve never been able to tease that out,” he says.
A recent BMJ review of more than 50 studies on alcohol and heart health supports Shapiro’s view. Researchers found that people with a form of a gene tied to lower levels of drinking had healthier hearts. That suggests that cutting down on drinking -- even for light or moderate drinkers -- benefits the heart.
Another recent study found that people who have as little as one or two drinks of wine or liquor may raise their odds of atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous form of irregular heartbeat.
Bright Side to 'Healthy' Drinking?
Like Shapiro, geriatrician Alison Moore, MD, MPH, is skeptical of studies about light to moderate drinking that tout health benefits but don't show cause and effect. But she says research has shown that this amount of drinking may play a positive role in numerous conditions, from heart health to diabetes to dementia.