Drinking This Just Once Increases Your Heart Disease Risk, Doctors Warn

Medical experts say that "no amount" of the beverage is good for your cardiovascular health.

For most people, keeping your heart healthy becomes even more critical as they age. After all, it's the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 659,000 lives each year or about one every 36 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In most cases, setting up a diet and exercise plan with advice from your doctor can help establish healthy habits and lower your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. But doctors now warn that what you're drinking could also raise your risk of heart disease—even in small amounts. Read on to see what beverage you might want to banish from your routine.

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Medical experts warn that drinking even a little alcohol can raise your risk of heart disease.

Pensive senior man drinking red wine at home and looking away

For decades, a controversial debate has raged on within the medical community on the potential health risks and benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. But according to a policy brief released by the World Heart Federation (WHF) on Jan. 20, the international medical organization is warning that not only does a daily glass of wine not promote health benefits but that "no amount of alcohol is good for the heart."

"At the World Heart Federation, we decided that it was imperative that we speak up about alcohol and the damages to health, as well as the social and economic harms, because there is an impression in the population in general, and even among health care professionals, that it is good for the heart," Beatriz Champagne, PhD, chair of the advocacy committee that produced the report, told CNN in an email. "It is not, and the evidence has increasingly shown that there is no level of alcohol consumption that is safe for health."

Data shows that alcohol is responsible for millions of deaths each year globally.

Doctor In Surgery Listening To Male Patient's Chest Using A Stethoscope

According to the full policy brief released by the WHF, there were more than 2.4 million alcohol-related deaths in 2019, accounting for 4.3 percent of all mortality globally. This includes 12.6 percent of deaths of men between the ages of 15 and 49. And while consuming alcoholic beverages has been linked by research to cancer, digestive illnesses, and risk factors resulting in injuries, it has also been found to have a negative effect on heart health.

"The evidence is clear: any level of alcohol consumption can lead to loss of healthy life," the WHF wrote in a press release announcing the brief. "Studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary disease, stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and aneurysm."

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The WHF argues that previous studies promoting moderate alcohol consumption misconstrue data.

Lonely mature woman holding glass of alcoholic drink while sitting on sofa at home during the day.

The policy brief also takes aim at previous studies that have concluded that an occasional libation might provide some level of heart health benefits. The WHF argues that such research often relies on unreliable observational data while also failing to consider other factors such as pre-existing conditions and medical histories in participants.

"The portrayal of alcohol as necessary for a vibrant social life has diverted attention from the harms of alcohol use, as have the frequent and widely publicized claims that moderate drinking, such as a glass of red wine a day, can offer protection against cardiovascular disease," Monika Arora, PhD, member of the WHF Advocacy Committee and co-author of the latest brief, said in the press release. "These claims are at best misinformed and at worst an attempt by the alcohol industry to mislead the public about the danger of their product."

Some experts disagreed with the policy brief's assumptions, saying it misrepresents some studies.

A group of senior men drinking beer at a bar

However, some experts pushed back against the WHF announcement by accusing the agency of cherry-picking its research. For instance, one study published by the medical journal The Lancet in 2018 was cited multiple times in the policy brief, "but [it] seriously misrepresents, and selectively reports, their findings," David Spiegelhalter, PhD, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., told CNN.

Other health agencies have also recently released studies highlighting the potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. One cited by the CDC found that it provided a protective benefit for those living with heart disease by reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death, Prevention reports.

The 2021 Dietary Guidance Scientific Statement released by the American Heart Association (AHA)—which is also a member of the WHF—also states that "moderation is key," advising that "if you don't drink already, don't start. If you do drink, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation." However, the organization plans to "carefully review" the WHF's latest brief, Mariell Jessup, MD, chief science and medical officer for the AHA, told CNN.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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