BY GILLIE HOUSTON/MARCH 30, 2022 1:48 PM EDT
Despite the age-old belief that a cocktail, glass of wine, or beer at the end of the day could potentially bolster heart health, new evidence suggests that this healthful reputation is a sham. According to a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, there is little evidence to support the notion that consuming small amounts of alcohol poses any benefit to cardiovascular health.
The study, which set out to determine how different quantities of habitual alcohol consumption affect the risk of cardiovascular disease, found that any degree of drinking — from a single glass of wine per week to excessive boozy binges — increases the risk of heart disease. However, the risk increases substantially with more excessive consumption than it does with casual, moderate drinking.
Throughout the study, scientists closely monitored the medical data, genetic data, and weekly drinking habits of 371,463 participants. According to the findings, "genetic evidence supported a nonlinear, consistently risk-increasing association between all amounts of alcohol consumption" and health issues like hypertension and coronary artery disease.
Recent findings suggest past studies on the positive effects of drinking were misleading
The U.K. study notes that light levels of alcohol consumption lead to a modest increase in health risks, while higher levels of consumption significantly increase that risk. Scientists concluded that healthcare professionals should adjust their recommendations and guidelines to reflect the fact that even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other dangerous ailments.
According to The New York Times, this conclusion came as a surprise to some cardiologists and health care professionals, who had previously been led to believe that one alcoholic drink a day could actually benefit patients' health, rather than harm it. This long-held notion was the result of past data that indicated that people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol (less than two drinks a day) had a 20% lower risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who didn't drink at all (via Heart and Stroke).
However, researchers in the latest alcohol consumption study surmised that — based on the data collected — this correlation is likely due to the fact that study participants who reported modest amounts of drinking tended to also stick to more healthful, risk-reducing habits like exercising frequently and smoking less in comparison to those who did not drink whatsoever.
Excessive drinking throughout the pandemic has led to increased death and disease
The latest data on the health risks posed by alcohol has arrived at a key moment, as alcohol consumption levels have reached new highs. According to Massachusetts General Hospital, which ran a nationwide survey on the drinking habits of U.S. adults that were published in December 2021 in the medical journal Hepatology, excessive drinking increased by a staggering 21% across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scientists have estimated that this increase in heavy drinking over the course of just one year could result in a huge upswing in drinking-related diseases and ailments, including an additional 18,700 cases of liver failure, 1,000 cases of liver cancer, and 8,000 deaths from liver disease by 2040.
Another recent study published in JAMA determined that alcohol-related deaths — from accidents, liver disease, and other alcohol-related issues — increased by 25% in 2020 compared to the previous year. These findings indicated that even in the short term, an increase in heavy drinking can lead to grave health implications.
Although the latest study indicates that alcohol-related health risks remain relatively low with light weekly consumption, it also indicates that any level of boozy imbibing could lead to potentially deadly long-term health consequences. However, if you lead an otherwise healthy, balanced lifestyle, a glass of wine at the end of a long day isn't likely to substantially impact your health in the long run ... though it, unfortunately, won't help either.