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Moderate drinkers less likely to suffer from heart problems, study suggests

Moderate drinking can cut the risk of suffering a heart attack, angina or heart failure, though taking up exercise is better for you, experts say.

A new study on 1.93 million people in the UK suggests drinking in moderation, classed as having no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, offers a protective effect for the heart compared with not drinking.

Previous studies have suggested that alcohol has a positive effect on the levels of "good" cholesterol in the blood as well as proteins associated with blood clotting.

The new study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that moderate drinkers were less likely to turn up at their doctor suffering from angina, heart attack, heart failure, ischaemic stroke (the most common type), circulation problems caused by a build-up of fat in the arteries and aortic aneurysm than non-drinkers.

But the research found that heavy drinking, more than 14 units, increased the risk of heart failure, a cardiac arrest, ischaemic stroke and circulation problems caused by fatty arteries.

The authors, from the University of Cambridge and University College London (UCL), welcomed the findings but said: "W hile we found that moderate drinkers were less likely to initially present with several cardiovascular diseases than non-drinkers, it could be argued that it would be unwise to encourage individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their risk.

"This is because there are arguably safer and more effective ways of reducing cardiovascular risk, such as increasing physical activity and smoking cessation, w hich do not incur increased risks of alcohol- related harm such as alcohol dependence, liver disease and cancer."

They said it was an observational study, so no definite conclusions could be drawn, but the research was in line with previous studies.

In a linked editorial, researchers at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the US said the findings highlighted "lower rates of essentially every meaningful cardiovascular outcome except haemorrhagic stroke among moderate drinkers than among abstainers.

"Four decades of epidemiological studies have largely found the same."

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: "As the authors of the study say, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions from the study about cause and effect between moderate alcohol consumption and heart health.

"What is clear, however, is the wide-ranging evidence base considered by the UK's chief medical officers when revising the alcohol guidelines last year.

"After reviewing the evidence, the chief medical officers were clear that the benefits of drinking alcohol have been overstated in the past, with any protective effect on heart health applying to a much smaller group than previously thought - women over 55 who drink at very low levels - around one unit of alcohol a day."

Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership, which is funded by drinks firms including Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Campari and Bacardi, said: "This new study confirms yet again what previous studies have consistently found.

"Moderate alcohol consumption can have a beneficial impact on health."

Tracy Parker, heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This study suggests that sticking within alcohol guidelines may actually lower your risk of some heart conditions.

"But it's important to remember that the risks of drinking alcohol far outweigh any possible benefits.

"And these findings are certainly no reason to start drinking alcohol if you don't already.

"There are far more effective ways of improving your heart health such as regular exercise, a good diet and quitting smoking."

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