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This Can Dramatically Decrease Your Heart Attack Risk, Says New Study

But that doesn't mean alcohol is a health food.

People who drink alcohol moderately (meaning one or two drinks a day) may face fewer heart problems than people who totally abstain, a new study has found. 

In the research, presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting, scientists analyzed the healthcare records of more than 53,000 people. They divided the study subjects into three groups—those who described their alcohol intake as low (less than one drink per week), moderate (one to 14 drinks per week), or high (more than 14).

Overall, 15% of the study group experienced a "major adverse cardiovascular event" such as heart attack or stroke. The researchers found that moderate drinkers had a 20% lower chance of suffering a heart attack than people who reported low or no alcohol intake.

The scientists also found that moderate drinkers had lower stress-related brain activity. Moderate drinking may relieve stress, which is associated with negative health outcomes, particularly related to heart disease. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.

But It's Not a License to Tie One On

Conversely, binge drinking seems to stress the body. "We found that stress-related activity in the brain was higher in non-drinkers when compared with people who drank moderately, while people who drank excessively had the highest level of stress-related brain activity," said Kenechukwu Mezue, MD, a fellow in nuclear cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study's lead author. "Moderate amounts of alcohol may have effects on the brain that can help you relax, reduce stress levels and, perhaps through these mechanisms, lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease."

Several other studies have suggested there are health benefits to moderate drinking, but experts haven't officially set a "healthy" alcohol intake, because excessive consumption raises the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other negative outcomes.

"The current study suggests that moderate alcohol intake beneficially impacts the brain-heart connection," said Mezue. "However, alcohol has several important side effects, including an increased risk of cancer, liver damage and dependence, so other interventions with better side effect profiles that beneficially impact brain-heart pathways are needed."

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What to Do Now

To stay healthy, experts advise limiting your alcohol consumption to one drink a day for women and two for men younger than 65. After age 65, men should also dial back to one daily. (As we age, the stomach and liver naturally shrink, shortening the alcohol-to-stomach travel distance and reducing the liver's capacity to detox.)   

"If you feel concerned about your liver functioning, speak to your doctor as soon as you can and find out what blood tests can help identify liver inflammation and dysfunction," advises Dr. Wynne Armand, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Always be honest with your doctor about how much you drink.

And if you're feeling stressed, be honest with your doctor about that also. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael