As the festive season approaches you will start to hear more and more women and men alike justifying their red wine with supper, claiming they’re actually doing it for their hearts! But how true is this statement? And is red wine the only alcohol that has a benefit for our hearts?…

So is Alcohol really good for our hearts? The association between alcohol intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) has been thoroughly investigated over the past years and even decades with regards to both the amount as well as type consumed and in general, alcohol intake is consistently linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Observational studies suggest that moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower risk of various cardiovascular events, particularly coronary heart disease and interventional studies showed that alcohol favourably influences various biomarkers associated with risk of coronary heart disease, the favourable effects were seen on levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol, apolipoprotein A1, adiponectin, and fibrinogen; all changes reported to be cardio protective. These results strengthen the evidence for a link between alcohol intake and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. And a benefit for the mind? A recent study shows a boost in brain power for women who consume a little alcohol. The study, evaluated more than 12,000 women aged 70-81. Moderate drinkers scored better than those who did not drink at all on tests of mental function. Researchers found a boost in brainpower with one drink a day and the moderate drinkers had a 23% reduced risk of mental decline compared with nondrinkers.

So how much alcohol has a benefit? All the studies around this topic have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption (up to one drink or 15 g alcohol a day for women and up to two drinks or 30 g alcohol a day for men) has been associated with a decreased risk for certain cardiovascular diseases, particularly coronary heart disease, in many studies of diverse populations. So MODERATION IS KEY! (Note: these daily drinks cannot be “saved up” for a huge binge drink on the weekend!)

What’s so great about red wine? The French diet is often used as an example of how wine can improve heart health. The French have a fairly high-fat diet but their heart disease risk is relatively low. And some have attributed this to red wine. Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and antioxidants (Polyphenol called Resveratrol) in red wine may help prevent heart disease. Resveratrol may be the key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces “bad” cholesterol and prevents blood clots.

Does alcohol benefit all age groups the same? In principle, the cause of Coronary heart disease among younger adults and older adults may differ from eachother; for instance, relatively more cases among younger adults may be attributed to genetic causes. Therefore, alcohol may not necessarily protect against coronary heart disease in this age group. Surprisingly in a recent study the findings suggested that this effect is also present in younger age groups. However, younger adults are already at low risk for Coronary heart disease, and the beneficial effects obtained by a moderate alcohol intake may be negligible compared with the increased risk of, for instance, traffic accidents and cancer. Recommendations on alcohol intake among younger adults should consider all-cause mortality and morbidity.

So what should we do? The association between alcohol consumption and decreased risk of coronary heart disease is well established. Results from studies provide strong evidence for a lower risk of coronary heart disease among moderate consumers relative to nondrinkers in younger, middle-aged, and older adults and this finding was consistent and of similar size in all age groups.; however, considering absolute risks across age groups, younger adults are not likely to benefit from an overall recommendation of moderate alcohol intake.

It’s important to note that alcohol is a double-edged sword: A little may be good but too much alcohol can lead to serious problems and no one should start drinking if they don’t already drink. To gain the benefits of good health, you can enjoy your one to two drinks per day at mealtime and follow the advice of the dietary guidelines for food, exercise as well as weight management.

for @futurelifeZA by Lara De Santana