Looks like indulging in your favorite pint of beer might be not be so bad for you after all. That’s right: A new study published in the British Medical Journal has found that consuming within the recommended limits of around 1 1/2 bottles of wine or seven pints of beer per week could actually lower your risk of getting certain heart diseases.
So, what exactly did this study determine about the effects of alcohol on your heart? Researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London analyzed data from almost 2 million people in the U.K. — and found that those who do not drink at all, or who drink heavy doses, are more likely to be affected by certain heart conditions, including stroke and heart attack, than moderate drinkers.
That’s good news for people who enjoy the occasional glass of wine with dinner or pint of beer when gathering with friends. In fact, researchers found that people who engage in moderate drinking decreased their risks of heart attack (32-percent decrease), sudden heart death (56-percent decrease), heart failure (24-percent decrease), and stroke (12-percent decrease).
Lead researcher Steven Bell, a genetic epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge in England, said there could be a number of possible reasons for their findings. Apparently, moderate drinking may reduce inflammation, while also boosting a person’s “good” cholesterol levels, the researchers claim. They also believe the social buzz we get from alcohol — which enables many of us to be more engaged with people — may also play a role in a person’s overall well-being (and consequently reduce the risk of developing heart disease).
However, it’s also important to note that researchers found that drinking more than the “recommended limits” increased the risk of many heart health problems. Those problems included sudden heart death (21-percent increase), heart failure (22-percent increase), cardiac arrest (50-percent increase) and stroke (33-percent increase).
An article in U.S. News and World Report said the new study is consistent with earlier results claiming a correlation between moderate drinking and better heart health — but these latest findings are more significant because this study involved millions of people. Dr. Allan Stewart, a director of aortic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said that “with this degree of power in the study, it’s pretty good evidence you are benefitting your health by having a few drinks a week, or a drink or two a day.”
The findings easily match up with what is considered “healthy drinking” in the U.S.: The guidelines the study used to define moderate drinking align with the definition of healthy drinking published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines state that if Americans drink alcohol, they should do so in moderation, which is defined as: up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. (The CDC considers a drink to be 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.)
But before you go and buy up all the stock of spirits at your local store — consider this: The findings are not a reason for those who abstain from drinking to all of a sudden start pounding back the booze. Because quite honestly, there are arguably much safer ways of increasing your heart health, such as smoking cessation, exercise, and consuming a healthy diet.
Sara Lindberg is a wife, mother of two, secondary school counselor, and writer based in Washington State.