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Does Abstaining From Alcohol Put You at Greater Risk for Heart Disease?

An article in Pacific Standard this week titled The Truth We Won't Admit: Drinking Is Healthy, makes the claim that abstinence from alcohol is among the major risk factors for heart disease. The article criticizes U.S. health policy, which has neglected to report the benefits of drinking and in some cases has forbidden scientists from reporting these benefits in their study findings. 

The article claims that any time a health benefit from drinking is included in a study or official U.S. dietary guidelines, there is an uproar and move to suppress the information, whereas the opposite is true of information about the evils of drinking. It states the case for moderate drinking in no uncertain terms, saying:

So the more you drink—up to two drinks a day for woman, and four for men—the less likely you are to die. You may have heard that before, and you may have heard it doubted. But the consensus of the science is overwhelming: It is true.

As evidence, the article offers plenty of studies and statistics, including the fact that Americans are at far higher risk for heart disease than heavier drinking countries.

Of course, there are caveats to this, even within this article — which is preaching (loudly) the benefits of drinking. One is that "these outcome data do not apply to women with the 'breast-cancer gene' mutations (BRCA 1 or 2)." The other is that binge drinking does not convey the same health benefits as moderate drinking. And while the article does not go into this, it has to be mentioned that, according to the CDC:

There are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death. In 2006, there were more than 1.2 million emergency room visits and 2.7 million physician office visits due to excessive drinking. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 were estimated at $223.5 billion.

In other words, if you're a problem drinker, you probably shouldn't continue drinking because you want to avoid heart disease. (Editor's note: That's Excuse #27. Sober people can take up running and probably outlive you all.) However, if you're a moderate drinker, the evidence suggests that giving up drinking is not beneficial to your health, and may be the opposite when it comes to heart disease. 

You can read the full Pacific Standard article here. 


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