The current advice that moderate drinking is good for the heart seems to be applicable to only 15 percent of the population, according to a new study by Sweden’s University of Gothenburg. The researchers confirm that moderate alcohol consumption can protect against coronary heart disease, but only for those with a particular genotype.
“Moderate drinking alone does not have a strong protective effect,” said Professor Lauren Lissner, who also participated in the study. “Nor does this particular genotype. But the combination of the two appears to significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The Swedish study involved 618 participants with coronary heart disease and 3,000 healthy people who acted as a control group. The subjects were categorized according to the amount of alcohol they consumed (ethanol intake) and were also tested to see whether they were of the genotype CETP TaqIB, known to play a role in the health benefits of alcohol consumption.
The findings show that, for the small percentage of people with genotype CETP TaqIB, moderate consumption of alcohol does offer protection from coronary heart disease; however, researchers believe that the advice frequently given about the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption is far too sweeping.
“In other words, moderate drinking has a protective effect among only 15 percent of the general population,” said Dag Thelle, M.D., professor emeritus at the university’s Sahlgrenska Academy.
The genotype codes for the Cholesterylester transfer protein (CETP), which affects the “good,” cardio-protective HDL cholesterol that helps remove excess fat from the blood vessels. One hypothesis is that alcohol somehow affects the CETP in a way that benefits HDL cholesterol.
Another hypothesis is that alcohol provides protective antioxidants. The researchers believe that one or both of these notions may prove correct, but the mechanism by which HDL cholesterol or antioxidants act remains unknown.
“Our study represents a step in the right direction,” Thelle said, “but a lot more research is needed.
“Assuming that we are able to describe these mechanisms, it may be a simple matter one day to perform genetic testing and determine whether someone belongs to the lucky 15 percent. That would be useful to know when offering advice on healthy alcohol consumption. But the most important thing is to identify new means of using the body’s resources to prevent coronary heart disease.”
The article is published online in the journal Alcohol.
Source: University of Gothenburg