Does alcohol harm the heart?

Q. You often say that an alcoholic drink per day improves heart health. But I heard a recent study found that any amount of alcohol is harmful for the heart and health. What’s the truth?

A. Every one of us wants advice that’s simple and “true.” But few important things are simple, and what we think is “true” can change with more information. Also, we’re all different in some ways, and what’s healthy for you may not be healthy for me.

My colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health put it succinctly: “Alcohol is both a tonic and a poison.” Whether alcohol is a tonic or a poison for you depends on your current state of health (including diseases that run in your family), your habits (such as diet, exercise, smoking), and how much alcohol you drink.

As for that recent study that concluded there was no amount of alcohol per day that was healthy [published online March 25, 2022, by JAMA Network Open], I think the study was flawed, and actually showed health benefits from three to six drinks per week.

In contrast to that single study, more than 100 large studies have found that people who have one drink per day (moderate drinking) have lower risks of cardiovascular disease. By the way, we define “one drink” as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. And while it’s healthy for most people to have one drink on each day of the week, seven drinks all on Saturday night is not healthy.

Many studies also find that people who have more than three drinks per day are at much greater risk for damage to the heart, liver, and brain, and of dying in an automobile accident or from violence.

Any amount of alcohol may increase risk of breast cancer in women. Hearing that, a woman might be inclined to say: “Well, then, I’m going to avoid alcohol.” But it’s not that simple. For example, a 60-year-old woman is 10 times more likely to die from heart disease than from breast cancer. While a drink a day may slightly increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, it reduces a woman’s much greater risk of heart disease.

It’s all about achieving a healthy balance of risks… for you! If breast cancer is common in your family, it may well be best to avoid having a drink a day. But if heart disease runs in your family, a drink a day may make sense for you.

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Finally, if you are physically active, don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet, are not overweight, and have no family history of heart disease, there’s little added benefit from drinking alcohol. And if you don’t usually drink, no need to start: there are better ways to achieve heart health.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

2 Corinthians 10:15-16 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 3:16-19 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, read more

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