Intermountain research further questions benefits of alcohol consumption
Drinking alcohol provides no additional health benefit for people already taking cholesterol reducing medicines called statins, an Intermountain Healthcare study found.
Some observational studies had previously pointed to red wine being beneficial at reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, but the new study failed to demonstrate this.
“Recommending alcohol for heart health is a controversial topic, although past observational studies have suggested benefit, said Dr. Jeffrey L. Anderson, an Intermountain Healthcare cardiologist and principal investigator of the study. “However, more recent reports have questioned this.”
Researchers examined specific groups of heart patients during the study, including those who have no known heart disease (primary prevention group), those with known heart disease (secondary prevention group) and individuals who were taking or not taking statins. They also asked participants in the study if they used alcohol. Of those using alcohol, 416 were on statins and 164 were not. Of the non-drinkers, 313 were on statins and 808 were not.
“While we did see some protective heart benefits for our patients not on a statin in the primary prevention group, we also found that it didn’t help those statin-taking patients in either the primary or secondary prevention groups,” Anderson noted.
Researchers also examined Intermountain patients who had diagnostic coronary angiography to determine whether they had coronary artery disease and, if so, whether they needed a stent or bypass surgery. About one-third had normal coronary arteries.
The research team then looked at how many patients in each category experienced a major adverse cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, within the next four years. They found that primary prevention patients who drank alcohol and were not taking statins did have lower rates of major cardiac events than non-drinkers not taking statins.
However, there was no difference in major cardiac events and death rates in primary prevention patients already taking statins, whether they drank or not. In those with known heart disease, alcohol did not reduce the risk of major cardiac events regardless of whether or not they were taking statins.
Anderson said the findings are important because of the conflicting views on alcohol use, especially in light of both higher rates of alcohol abuse observed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the World Health Organization’s recent position statement that any alcohol consumption is bad for your health.
It also finds support in a current study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which suggests that the supposed benefits of alcohol consumption may be explained by other healthy lifestyle factors that are common among light to moderate drinkers.
Anderson said larger and more in-depth studies, like those from MIT and Harvard, will further clarify the possible links between alcohol consumption, the amount and type of alcohol consumption, and heart health.
“We, as physicians, struggle with what to tell our patients about alcohol consumption in light of these new findings, especially since we know that higher levels of consumption have cascading negative health risks,” Anderson said. “If further confirmed, our findings may help us in our recommendations to patients about their personal choices about alcohol consumption as well as to inform professional medical society recommendations about alcohol use and heart health.”
Findings of the study were presented this week at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in Washington, D.C.