I’m 25 years old and am just finishing a graduate degree. Most of my friends and fellow students drink alcohol, claiming alcohol is heart healthy. What are the facts?
Excellent question! Heart-health benefits were first attributed to wine consumption by French-born scientist and researcher Serge Renaud. He attributed the lower number of heart attacks in the French population compared to other populations on similar diets in Europe to wine drinking—“the inviting glass,” as he described it.
Renaud’s hypothesis was published in 1992 and named the French paradox. He was interviewed on the popular U.S. television program 60 Minutes in 1991, and following numerous rebroadcasts, it was viewed by more than 50 million Americans. The following year the sales of wine increased by 40 percent in the United States, and exportation of French wines more than doubled between 1994 and 1998.¹ This brief history lends background to the current debates and the significant influence of the alcohol industry in this conversation.
Many papers on the purported heart-health benefit of moderate alcohol consumption have been published in the scientific literature. There’s also a very robust body of literature showing the significant problems of many studies on alcohol use, including the numerous confounding variables, risk of abuse and dependence, methodological issues relating to assessing the level and duration of alcohol use over the life course, and significant differences in the study populations and comparisons in reaching this positive conclusion.²
Nondrinkers represent a very diverse group, adding to the confounding, and it’s essential to account for such variances as past drinking history, access to health care and health insurance, education, and socioeconomic factors. Very large and convincing studies using global data confirm the limitations of the evidence for a beneficial effect with moderate alcohol consumption and have concluded that “the evidence for the harmful effects of alcohol is undoubtedly stronger than the evidence for beneficial effects.”³ It’s also important to note there are no reported heart-health benefits for young people, and the most vulnerable to alcohol-use complications are aged 19 through 45 years.
Alcohol remains the third-largest risk factor for the global disease burden. Alcohol use places many burdens on families, including strong association with domestic violence. Alcohol is addictive. Alcohol use is significantly associated with crime and violence. Even apparent cardiac benefits are far outweighed by increased risks of cancer and strokes and overall cardiovascular disease. Alcohol is a known carcinogen, and there’s no known safe level of alcohol intake that may avoid this dreaded health complication.⁴
Overall, it’s scientifically clear that the safe level of alcohol use is “zero.”
Most recently the World Heart Federation has voiced strong warnings on alcohol use.⁵
Read, stay informed, choose health and the abundant life—avoid alcohol completely!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.