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Health Watch: Consistent, Moderate Drinking Linked to Lower Heart Disease Risk

Plus, how might chocolate and red wine help you live longer?
One drink daily for a week is heart healthier than seven on Saturday, research finds.
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One drink daily for a week is heart healthier than seven on Saturday, research finds.

Lexi Williams
Posted: October 2, 2018

Studies have shown that it's not just the amount of alcohol we drink that influences our heart health, but also how frequently we drink it. And a recent meta-analysis on the relationship between alcohol and coronary heart disease (CHD) supports this claim, finding that those who consumed alcohol in moderation on a consistent basis were least likely to suffer a heart attack.

The analysis, carried out by researchers from University College London and the University of Cambridge and published in the BMC Medicine journal, looked at six cohort studies (five British and one French) that examined people's drinking patterns and their risk of developing CHD. Alcohol-consumption for more than 35,000 participants (62.1 percent of whom were male) was assessed at three different points over the course of 10 years.

Consumption levels were measured based on the alcohol content in each person's reported number of drinks, according to each country's guidelines. Moderate drinking was considered to be up to 168 grams of ethanol (or 12 standard drinks, by U.S. standards) per week for men and up to 112 grams of ethanol (or 8 standard U.S. drinks) per week for women. The researchers also used this data to determine whether each individual's drinking habits remained consistent over time.

Over the course of the observational period, about 5 percent of the participants experienced a CHD “event,” meaning a heart attack. Compared with consistently moderate drinkers, those who inconsistently drank in moderation, nondrinkers and former drinkers all had a higher risk of developing CHD, with former drinkers having the highest risk.

The researchers then took a closer look: When subdividing the participant data by gender, they found that in the non-drinking category, the higher CHD risk appeared to only apply to women. When they split the data by age, they discovered that the elevated risk among inconsistently moderate drinkers was only present in participants older than 55. The study's text suggests lifestyle changes—such as retirement, which is known to occur in conjunction with higher levels of drinking—as an explanation for this particular finding.

"Overall, the findings from this study support the notion of a cardioprotective effect of moderate alcohol intake relative to non-drinking," the study's text states. "However, crucially, stability in the level of alcohol consumption over time appears to be an important modifier of this association."

Because these cohort studies were observational and not randomized clinical trials, we can't come to any conclusions about the direct effects of drinking patterns on cardiovascular health. However, this analysis is an indication of the possible links between the two. Further research will help make more sense of the connections.

Red Wine Considered Part of a Life-Extending Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A study of the diets of 68,273 Swedish men and women has found that following an anti-inflammatory diet can lead to a longer life. Among the items considered part of this life-lengthening menu? Fruits, vegetables, low-fat cheeses, olive oil, tea, coffee, chocolate and moderate amounts of both beer and red wine.

The study, published this month in the Journal of Internal Medicine, followed participants ages 45 to 83 for a period of 16 years, and used an index of anti-inflammatory foods to rank participants based on what they consumed—the higher the score, the more anti-inflammatory the diet. The researchers found that participants who most closely followed an anti-inflammatory diet had an 18 percent lower risk of death from all causes, a 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular-related death, and a 13 percent lower risk of cancer-related death, when compared with those who scored lowest on the anti-inflammatory index.

What's more, even those who only somewhat followed the diet might enjoy longer lives. "Our dose-response analysis showed that even partial adherence to the anti-inflammatory diet may provide a health benefit," lead author Joanna Kaluza, an associate professor at Poland's Warsaw University of Life Sciences, said in a press release.

Wine, specifically red wine, and its compounds, such as resveratrol and quercetin, are often studied for the ways that their anti-inflammatory properties can provide protection against a wide variety of inflammation-linked ailments, including depression, respiratory infections and heart problems.

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