Moderate Drinking May Have Some Heart Benefits

Two wine glasses, of different sizes
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NEW ORLEANS — Moderate drinking may have positive effects on some aspects of heart health beyond those seen with light drinking, a new study from Australia finds.

The people in the study who drank 10 to 20 grams of alcohol per day were less likely to develop a condition called metabolic syndrome, which is linked with heart disease, compared with the people who drank less than 10 g of alcohol per day. In the U.S., a standard drink contains about 14 g of alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that is diagnosed when a person has at least three of these five risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, low levels of "good" cholesterol, high blood sugar, high triglycerides (a type of fat) and high waist circumference. The new findings were presented here Monday (Nov. 14) at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions annual meeting. [7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health]

Previous studies looking at the effects of alcohol on heart health have often compared people who drank moderately with people who abstained altogether, said Duc Du, a researcher at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania and the lead author of the study.

It is possible that in those previous studies that compared moderate drinking to abstinence from alcohol, researchers may have overestimated the benefits of alcohol consumption, Du told Live Science.

In the new study, Du and his colleagues looked at the effects of different amounts of drinking on heart health compared with light drinking in a group of about 2,200 young adults. The average age of the participants was 29.5, according to the study.

The researchers found that 54 percent of the people in the study were considered light drinkers, meaning they drank, on average, less than 10 g of alcohol per day, and 13 percent were nondrinkers. They also found that 22 percent of the people in the study were moderate drinkers, meaning they drank, on average, between 10 g and 20 g of alcohol per day, Du said. Five percent of the people in the study were heavy drinkers, or those who drank, on average, between 20 g and 30 g of alcohol per day, and 6 percent were very heavy drinkers, who drank, on average, more than 30 g of alcohol per day.

Compared with light drinkers, moderate drinkers were less likely to have metabolic syndrome, the researchers found. There was no difference in the likelihood of having metabolic syndrome between heavy drinkers and light drinkers, or between nondrinkers and light drinkers, the researchers found. [

The researchers also looked to see if alcohol consumption was linked to any of the individual components of metabolic syndrome. [Raise Your Glass: 10 Intoxicating Beer Facts]

Compared to light drinkers, nondrinkers had higher waist circumferences, on average, and lower average levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is considered the "good" type of cholesterol, according to the study. Moderate and heavy drinkers also had higher average levels of good cholesterol than light drinkers did, the researchers found.

Both heavy and very heavy drinking, however, were linked to significantly higher blood pressure measurements, on average, compared with light drinking, the researchers found.

The researchers noted that the links in the study held after they took into account the study participants' levels of physical activity, and whether they had depression. However, the findings do not prove there is a cause-and-effect relationship between moderate drinking and a lower risk of metabolic syndrome.

Overall, young adults should consider both the positive and negative effects of alcohol consumption when deciding whether to drink, the researchers concluded.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.