Problematic alcohol drinking harms heart health, study shows

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Scientists from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and elsewhere found problematic alcohol drinking harms heart health.

Alcohol drinking is a major global risk factor for death and chronic diseases.

There are diverse findings on the complex links between alcohol drinking and the leading cause of death and disability, ischemic heart disease.

Ischaemia or ischemia heart disease is a condition in which the heart is starved of oxygen due to a reduced blood supply.

In most cases, this is due to a build-up of plaque (fatty material plus cells) in the wall of one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart, known as the coronary arteries.

As the plaque enlarges, it gradually obstructs the flow of blood, which deprives the heart of oxygen and nutrients.

In the current study, researchers reviewed published studies examining the link between alcohol drinking, drinking patterns, and heart disease risk, in comparison to lifetime abstainers.

In the review, the team summarized the many articles published in the last 10 years, discussing the role of confounding and experimental evidence.

They also examined the effect of episodic heavy drinking among on average moderate drinkers.

The team found that compared to lifetime abstainers, the link between alcohol drinking and heart disease risk is clearly J-shaped.

Women experience slightly stronger beneficial associations and also a quicker upturn to a detrimental effect at lower levels of average alcohol drinking compared to men.

There was no evidence that chronic or episodic heavy drinking has a beneficial effect on heart disease risk.

People with alcohol use disorder have an increased risk of heart disease.

The researchers also showed that drinkers with an average intake of <30 g/day and no episodic heavy drinking had the lowest heart disease risk.

Drinkers with episodic heavy drinking occasions had a risk similar to lifetime abstainers.

Based on the findings, the team suggests a beneficial effect of low alcohol drinking without heavy drinking episodes.

However, episodic and chronic heavy drinking does not provide any beneficial effect on heart disease.

Thus, average alcohol drinking is not sufficient to describe the risk link between alcohol drinking and heart disease.

The team suggests that alcohol policy should try to reduce heavy drinking habits.

The research was published in BMC Medicine and conducted by Michael Roerecke and Jürgen Rehm.

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