Addiction, alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, liver disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, obesity, diabetes and heart attack, these are the problems that have been linked with the consumption of alcohol. We have been hearing so many negative things about alcohol for a very long time that it has become nearly impossible for us to believe that it can actually be good for our health.
So what’s new? Surprisingly true, recent researches suggest that alcohol might benefit people with heart disease, if they consume it in moderate amount.
Moderate consumption of alcohol can save you from atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries become narrow and clogged and one of the major causes of heart attack. The major factor that contributes to atherosclerosis is cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance; if the blood becomes too much concentrated with it, sticks to the artery walls and becomes plaque. The platelets present in the blood get stuck to the plaque and cause the blood to clot. These blood clots restrict the flow of the oxygen-rich blood to reach the heart, causing heart attack.
How can alcohol help?
- It helps to increase HDL or “good” cholesterol
- It increases apolipoprotien A1, this protein plays a vital role in lipid metabolism and is also an important component of HDL
- Decreases fibrinogen, which is responsible for blood clotting
- It prevents plaque formation in the arteries
- It prevents blood clots and platelets from clumping
As we know there are two types of cholesterol, LDL or bad cholesterol and HDL or good cholesterol. Low levels of HDL and high levels of LDL can cause plaque formation in the arteries. A study published in the journal “Circulation”, in 2000, revealed that alcohol helps to boost HDL levels and the major contributing factor present in alcohol is ethanol.
There is another study that supports the fact that alcohol can improve cardiovascular health. This study was conducted in 2008, by Danish researchers who examined 12000 participants for 20 years. The effects of alcohol and exercise were observed on the hearts of participating men and women. Following were the results of the research:
- Positive relationship between regular exercise and decrease in heart disease was observed, in fact there was a reduction in the heart disease risk up to 32%
- Participants who were very active and did not had any consumption of alcohol showed a 30% drop in the risk of heart disease
- Those who consumed alcohol and also took regular exercise showed a reduction if the risk of heart disease up to 50%
- Non-active alcohol drinkers showed a reduction in the heart disease risk up to 30%, compared to the non-active participant who didn’t drink
Overall it was concluded that people drinking alcohol and taking regular exercise had the lowest chances of developing heart disease. An important thing to notify here is that the participants in this study only had one alcoholic beverage in a week.
Another study conducted in the U.S. in 2007, focused on men consuming one to two drinks in a day. It was revealed that such men had fewer incidences of heart attacks.
A research was conducted at The University of Buffalo, in 2001. The participants involved women who already had heart disease and consumed one drink in a day. These women were at a lower risk of having a heart attack as compared to the women who didn’t consume alcohol at all.
All the above mentioned studies focus on the moderate consumption of alcohol. In the U.S. the standard size of a “drink” is 12 ounces of beer and 5 ounces of wine, both containing 14 grams of ethanol. Men can consume 1 to 2 drinks per day and for women not more than one drink is recommended per day.
Out of all the alcoholic beverages red wine is considered the best. The antioxidants along with the anti-clotting compound known as resveratrol found in it are very beneficial for the heart.
The American Heart Association does not consider alcohol intake as a heart-healthy activity and does not encourage relying on alcohol for treating heart disease. Instead, it focuses on healthy eating, limiting the intake of salt and taking regular exercise.
Alcohol is also responsible for increasing the levels of triglycerides in the blood; it raises blood pressure and also causes liver disease. The scientist at the University of Buffalo discovered that consumption of alcohol, even in moderate amounts, increases the chances of developing breast cancer in women.
So we can conclude that “Alcohol is clearly a double-edged sword”.
Here is a video of a research from University of Florida.