Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can help protect the heart by attenuating stress-related signals in the brain.
US scientists found that moderate drinking – the equivalent of one drink for women and two for men per day – was associated with a lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease compared to high or excessive alcohol consumption.
The preliminary study, which will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th annual scientific meeting and has not yet been published in a journal, is based on a health survey of more than 53,000 people.
The scientists warn, however, that their results should not encourage alcohol consumption, but rather pave the way for other forms of therapy to reduce stress, such as exercise or yoga.
Dr. Kenechukwu Mezue, Fellow in Nuclear Cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and lead author of the study, said, “The current study suggests that moderate alcohol consumption has a positive impact on the brain-heart connection.
“However, alcohol has several important side effects, including an increased risk of cancer, liver damage, and addiction. Therefore, other interventions with better side-effect profiles and beneficial effects on the brain-heart pathways are needed.”
In the UK, moderate drinking means consuming seven to 14 units of alcohol per week, the equivalent of six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine.
For the study, the scientists looked at data from 53,064 participants in the United States who reported their alcohol consumption themselves as low (less than one drink per week), moderate (one to 14 drinks), or high (more than 14).
Around 15% (7,905) of the participants had a major adverse cardiovascular event, of which 17% were in the low alcohol group and 13% in the moderate alcohol group.
Some of these patients had a brain exam to measure activity in stress-related regions such as the amygdala and frontal cortex.
The results showed that those who reported drinking in moderation were 20% less likely to experience a major cardiovascular event and less stress-related brain activity compared to having little or no alcohol consumption.
Dr. Mezue said, “We found that nondrinkers had higher levels of stress-related brain activity compared to people who drank moderately, while people who drank excessively (more than 14 drinks per week) had the highest levels of stress-related activity Brain activity.
“The thought is that moderate amounts of alcohol can have effects on the brain that can help you relax, relieve stress, and possibly through these mechanisms, lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”
Dr. However, Mezue and his team said their study is limited due to self-reporting of alcohol consumption and more research is needed to show that a decrease in stress-related brain activity is the direct result of moderate alcohol consumption.
Another preliminary study, also presented at the American College of Cardiology conference, showed that young and medium-sized adults who reported severe psychological distress, such as depression or anxiety, more than twice as often a second after recovering from a heart attack long cardiac event suffered within five years compared to those who experience only light stress.
The results of the observational study are based on the health outcomes of 283 heart attack survivors aged 18 to 61 years.
Dr. Mariana Garcia, Cardiology Fellow at Emory University in Atlanta and lead study author, said, “Our findings suggest that cardiologists should consider the value of regular psychological exams, especially in younger patients.
“It is just as important that, in addition to traditional medical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation, they also examine treatment modalities for alleviating the psychological stress of young patients after a heart attack, such as meditation, relaxation techniques and holistic approaches.”