Two reports examining the relationship between heart health and alcohol consumption came out this week, and the results couldn't be more different. One study says a drink a day keeps the cardiologist away, while the other warns against alcohol consumption lest you boost your blood pressure.
The first study followed four-year period and found that those who drank in moderation -- a maximum of one drink a day for women and two drinks for men -- were 38 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who didn't drink at all. The results, published in the American Journal of Medicine, noted marked improvement in HDL cholesterol levels among the drinkers, as well as reduced incidence of heart attacks and other "cardiovascular events." Those who drank only wine fared even better than those who consumed other alcoholic beverages. Interestingly, in spite of the help to the heart afforded by alcohol, the study showed that drinking did not decrease the death rate, perhaps, the researchers suggested, because drinking has associated negative effects that counterbalance the positive.
Those negative effects were the focus of the second study, which looked at ties between increased blood pressure and drinking alcohol. According to PLoS Medicine, researchers at the University of Bristol in England ascertained that those who drank heavily were 2.42 times more likely to have high blood pressure than those who didn't drink at all. Moderate drinkers had 1.7 times the incidence of hypertension. This means that men who drank 1g (.04 ounces) of alcohol a day over the course of their lives would increase their systolic blood pressure by 0.24mmHg. This spike in alcohol-related hypertension is much greater than previously thought.
So what's happening here? How can two studies published at the same time come to such diametrically opposed conclusions?
The problem is that despite the fact that the both the medical community and governmental agencies have convinced the media (and most lay people) that scientific studies are the gold standard of health -- the sine qua non of medicine -- they are not. As we have discussed before, you can pretty much get a study to come to any conclusion you want -- depending on your agenda. So what happened here with our two studies on alcohol? Quite simply, the studies focused on individual trees, not on the forest. Alcohol has multiple effects on the body, some health-enhancing, and some not. Taken one at a time, these effects have little meaning. In the end, the only effect that matters is the impact on your overall health and survival rate. And where does alcohol stand in that regard?
Moderate drinking (a glass of wine a day) probably does more good than harm -- but (and this is a big butt -- you can achieve the same health benefits, without any downside, by simply modifying your diet and consuming the right supplements.