The Grapevine

People Who Think Alcohol Is Heart Healthy Cite Media Reports And Tend To Drink More

Red Wine
Studies have suggested alcohol may be heart healthy, but that doesn't mean you should drink it frequently. Jing a Ling, CC BY 2.0

It’s no secret that drinking a bit of alcohol daily might stave off heart disease — at least that’s what study upon study has suggested. People love seeing reports on these studies, probably because they justify drinking a beverage that has long been associated with negative effects on our health and our environment. The thing is most of them only suggest there could be a link; there’s no definitive proof it actually benefits heart health. Yet, many people take these reports at their word and may end up drinking more than they should, a new study finds.  

Led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, the study found that while 39 percent of people believe alcohol is unhealthy for the heart, 30 percent viewed it as beneficial. Thirty-one percent were unsure. What struck the researchers, however, was that 80 percent of people who said alcohol was heart healthy said they discovered its “benefits” through media reports. These people also consumed an average of 47 percent more alcohol than those who said it wasn’t healthy.

Their drink of choice? Most of the time it was wine. Studies have suggested a chemical in red wine called resveratrol contains antioxidant properties akin to blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts. Resveratrol could possibly reduce concentrations of “bad” cholesterol in our blood and improve insulin sensitivity for better blood sugar control. But just because there’s correlation doesn’t mean there’s causation. Alcohol is still responsible for about 88,000 deaths a year, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage each day and men no more than two — considered moderate consumption.

“It is particularly interesting to note that those who believe alcohol to be heart healthy actually drink more alcohol,” said Dr. Gregory Marcus, director of clinical research at UCSF’s Division of Cardiology, in a statement. “Whether their belief causes this behavior, or merely justifies it, remains an interesting unknown.”

While there may be some benefit to drinking alcohol in moderate amounts — studies have also suggested the hops in beer are beneficial — binge drinking or drinking more than recommended regularly can put a person at risk of short-term health risks, such as injuries related to motor vehicle crashes or falls, as well as long-term risks, like cancer, memory problems, mental health problems, and alcoholism. Drinking excessively can even have the opposite effect as these studies claim, raising blood pressure and increasing risk of heart disease.

When reading about studies on the beneficial effects of alcohol consumption on the heart, it’s important to remember moderation is key just as much as correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Source: Whitman I, Pletcher M, Vittinghoff E, et al. Perceptions, Information Sources, and Behavior Regarding Alcohol and Heart Health. The American Journal of Cardiology. 2015. 

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