Previous studies have hinted at links between light alcohol consumption and benefits to people's heart health, and it's easy to run with any study that suggests that cracking open a cold one after work is actually good for you.
However, the connection may not be as straightforward as it seems. A new study suggests that any seeming benefits may actually be due to other factors, and even moderate drinking could increase your chance of getting heart disease.
In the study published in late March in the journal Cardiology, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard examined data from over 370,000 United Kingdom adults, comparing information on their drinking habits, their lifestyle habits, and their heart disease risk.
These observations cast doubt on the belief that light alcohol consumption can improve heart health, instead suggesting that any associations between moderate drinking and heart health may be due to other lifestyle factors. Additionally, researchers found that the risk of heart disease rose exponentially as drinking went up, suggesting that consuming more alcoholic beverages can dramatically boost your risk.
Perhaps even more relevantly when thinking about how alcoholic beverages can affect your health, dietitians highlight findings that these drinks can leave you in increased danger of some kinds of cancer. They noted that moderate drinkers tended to exercise more, eat more nutritious foods, and smoke less than those who didn't drink at all.
"Overconsumption of alcohol can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers," Caroline Susie, RD, tells Eat This, Not That! "Yes, there are cardioprotective benefits (raising good cholesterol and lowering blood pressure), but you can find [those benefits from] other foods besides alcohol."
In fact, one study from July 2021 printed in the journal The Lancet Oncology linked alcohol consumption with cancers of the esophagus, throat, larynx, colon, rectum, liver, and breast.
Moreover, in an interview with Eat This, Not That!, Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, Nutrition Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), noted that the risk-elevating effect for cancers begins earlier than you may think.
"Alcohol increases risk of six different types of cancer…For some cancers—such as head and neck, esophageal, and breast cancers —risk starts to increase with even less than one standard drink per day, according to analysis of research from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)," she says. "The increased risk of cancer associated with alcohol is consistent, regardless of whether you choose beer, white wine, red wine, or distilled spirits (such as vodka or whiskey)."
For more potential consequences to watch out for, check out the Strange Side Effects of Alcohol You've Never Heard Before, Says Science.