Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Heavy Heart

I usually prefer to share good news about moderate drinking with you, but I have a bit of bad news today. Sure, it crossed my mind to sweep this new info under the rug - and maybe talk about Rob Ford's latest antics instead.

But I'm not going to 'hide' this new study because I believe it's important to have as much information as possible about how our habits affect our health - good or bad. So here goes...

Moderate alcohol consumption has long been associated with a lower risk for heart disease, especially reducing the most common form, Coronary Artery Disease, a leading cause of death in North America and the UK. For many years now, researchers have been telling us that moderate drinking was actually a way to stave off this killer - not to mention a fun way since having a drink after work is a lot easier than hitting the gym. 

But a new study co-led by the University of Pennsylvania contradicts all of that. 155 researchers from the UK, North America, Europe and Australia analyzed 56 different studies about heart disease and alcohol. More than 250,000 subjects were involved - all of European descent. 

Researchers found that people with a particular gene - alcohol dehydrogenase 1B - drank about 17% less than people who didn't carry the gene. (Alcohol Dehydrogenase is an enzyme that helps us metabolize alcohol.) 

People with the 1B gene are more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol consumption, suffering from nausea, facial flushing and dizziness when they drink.  Naturally, these side effects make drinking less pleasurable which results in lower overall consumption. The critical factor found by the study was that carriers of the 1B gene also had a 10% reduced risk of heart disease. Based on this, researchers have concluded that less drinking equals a healthier heart. 

However, since this is the first study in a long time that contradicts the health benefits of moderate drinking on heart disease, some experts aren't completely convinced. Tim Spector of King's College thinks the findings are impressive, but that the study might have its limitations because people with the gene that makes them less tolerant to alcohol might also exhibit other tendencies that could lower the risk of heart disease - for instance, a healthier diet or exercise regimen. And these traits weren't properly measured in the study. 

Most experts feel the results are controversial enough to warrant more research into drinking, the B1 gene and heart disease, this time correcting for possible differences in lifestyle.

I'll be watching the developments with bated breath. In the meantime, maybe one less drink at this weekend's bbq might not be a bad idea. ;)  

Come on! It's not going to kill us!! 

(Or will it...? Hmmmm... I guess the jury's still out. But I'll keep you posted for sure!)