The World Heart Federation reports that even small amounts of alcohol increase heart attack risk. Taking one drink a day does not help to prevent heart attacks and appears to increase risk for heart attacks (Clinical Nutrition, Feb 1, 2022;41(2):348-355). A study of 371,463 individuals found that no amount of alcohol helps prevent heart disease, even low amounts of alcohol increase heart attack risk, and the more you drink, the greater your chance of suffering a heart attack (JAMA Netw Open, March 2022;5(3):e223849).
Flawed Studies on Health Benefits from Alcohol
The alcoholic beverage industry promotes studies showing that moderate drinkers live slightly longer than non-drinkers, but the non-drinking groups in these studies have included people who gave up alcohol on their doctors’ instructions: those with high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, some types of cancer, diseases of the heart, kidney, liver or lungs or other health problems, as well as recovering alcoholics. A study with a 20-year-follow-up of 4,028 18-to-64-year-old German adults found that when the people who had stopped drinking for medical reasons were removed from the control group, moderate drinkers did not live longer than non-drinkers (PLoS Medicine, Nov 2, 2021;18(11):e1003819).
An analysis of 45 earlier studies showed that those associating moderate drinking of alcohol with reduced heart attacks rates were flawed (J Stud Alcohol and Drugs, May 2017;78(3):394-403). To show that moderate drinking is associated with heart attack prevention, researchers must show that nondrinkers have more heart attacks than moderate drinkers. In these studies cited by the alcohol industry, more than half of the people in the “non-drinker” groups were recovering alcoholics or people who had been told to stop drinking because they already suffered from diseases caused in part by drinking or made worse by drinking. The authors of this analysis believe that nobody should drink because they believe that alcohol has health benefits.
Alcohol and Heart Damage
Drinking any amount of alcohol is associated with increased risk for irregular heartbeats or atrial fibrillation (European Heart J, March 21, 2021;42(12):1170-1177). A study of 79,000 Swedish adults, aged 45-83, followed for up to 12 years, showed that those who drank any amount of wine or liquor daily were at increased risk for atrial fibrillation, an abnormally fast heartbeat that can cause clots, strokes and heart failure (J American College of Cardiology, July 14, 2014). The more they drank, the more likely they were to develop atrial fibrillation.
People who take just one drink a day are at increased risk for heart disease (J American College of Cardiology, December 5, 2016) and enlarged upper heart and irregular heartbeats that cause clots and strokes (J Am Heart Assoc, Sep 14, 2016;5:e004060; J Am Coll Cardiol, 2016;68(23):2567-2576). Binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a single bout, increased risks even more. Data from six studies including more than 12,500 cases of atrial fibrillation showed that each additional drink per day of any type of alcohol boosted risk of irregular heartbeat by eight percent (J Am Coll Card, July 14, 2014). Many other studies have associated drinking alcohol with atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, heart failure and strokes. Association is not cause, but I believe that these studies give reason for caution.
Alcohol in any amount has also been linked to increased risk for many types of cancers. See Alcohol At Any Dose Can Increase Cancer Risk
Alcohol and Your Liver
Alcohol can damage every type of cell in your body, and your liver is the only organ that protects you. Your liver breaks down alcohol at a relatively constant rate, but first alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde, which is even more poisonous. It can make you feel like throwing up and make your face burn.
Drinking alcohol regularly increases risk for permanent liver damage called cirrhosis (Journal of Hepatology, January 26, 2015). Wine is associated with a lower risk for liver damage than beer or liquor. The authors of this study warn that older drinkers are more likely to have health conditions affected by alcohol or to take medicines that impair their ability to metabolize alcohol.
Many people have the mistaken belief that it is safe for women to take up to one drink per day and for men to take up to two drinks per day. Almost 30 percent of North Americans drink more than that. The studies I have listed in this article and many more suggest that no amount of alcohol is “safe” or beneficial. Whatever you decide about your own consumption of alcohol, do not base your decision on bad information from the alcoholic beverage industry.