Researchers claim they may be able to explain why moderate drinking is good for the heart because, contrary to what was previously believed, it acts on the brain rather than the blood.
NEW articles with conflicting evidence about the effects of alcohol on human health seem to appear every week or so.
One research team claims it’s good for cognition, while another contends it may raise the risk of cognitive decline.
Then, after hearing that beer can improve our gut health, we rapidly learn that the digestion of alcohol may increase gut inflammation.
We can be certain of the following: It’s never a good idea to binge drink, and taking a break from alcohol consumption can be a good way to get yourself to think about how you feel about drinking.
There will never be research convincing enough to persuade someone who doesn’t drink to start.
Despite this, most scientists agree that light to moderate drinking may have some health benefits. Many enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail while out celebrating with friends.
According to Time Magazine, a new study that was released on June 12 in the “Journal of the American College of Cardiology” provides additional background for the discussion.
Alcohol’s effects on how our brains react to stress may be tied to its potential benefits for heart health.
Light to moderate alcohol use may lower risk for cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke by reducing activity in the areas of the brain that react to stress, according to a study by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Large epidemiological studies have been accumulating evidence for several decades indicating that people who drink moderately – defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as up to one drink per day for women and two or fewer for men — may be at a reduced risk for certain heart problems than those who abstain from alcohol or drink more.
This prompted cardiologist and co-director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital Ahmed Tawakol and a group of researchers to investigate why this would be the case.
The Mass General Brigham Biobank, a database of health data from more than 135,000 people, provided Tawakol and his team with access to the medical records and surveys regarding alcohol intake of 53,064 participants, according to CNN Health.
The team noted who had had a heart attack, a stroke, or had been given a diagnosis of peripheral vascular disease or heart failure.
They also looked at the participants’ drinking patterns. Even after correcting for genetic, lifestyle, and other risk variables, they discovered that people who drank one to 14 drinks per week were less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than people who drank less than one drink per week.
The researchers also examined the brain scans of 754 of the participants and discovered that light to moderate drinkers experienced fewer heart attacks and strokes as well as a reduction in the amygdala’s stress reactions, which is the area of the brain responsible for processing threats and fear.
They discovered that the brain alterations in light to moderate drinkers accounted for a sizeable amount of the cardio-protective benefits.
The advantages were more common among those with a history of worry. According to Tawakol, alcohol reduces significant adverse cardiac events in people with stress and anxiety by a factor of two, CNN reported.
According to EatingWell, the relative risk decrease was roughly 20% in the majority of patients but 40% in those who had previously experienced anxiety.
Tawakol researches the stress neural network, which is centred on the amygdala, a region of the brain.
The sympathetic nervous system is activated when the amygdala is overstimulated, preparing the body for a fight-or-flight reaction. Inflammation rises and blood pressure rises as a result.
In the process, certain neurons are also stimulated, which causes the bone marrow to release additional pro-inflammatory cells.
Following that, the research team examined 754 of these individuals whose brains had been scanned in advance of the study.
They discovered that compared to their counterparts who drank little to no alcohol, light to moderate drinkers had reduced activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that plays a role in informing your body when you’re anxious.
They found that those with lower brain stress experienced fewer heart episodes. Those who had a history of anxiety showed an even stronger correlation.
According to an earlier study, alcohol may reduce our brain’s stress response to dangers like an angry face.
According to Wine Business, this appears to be the first study to connect this change in brain activity to the results related to heart health.
The reason the researchers think this is true is that “when the amygdala is too alert and vigilant, the sympathetic nervous system is heightened, which drives up blood pressure and heart rate and triggers the release of inflammatory cells”, according to Tawakol.
In a news release, Tawakol said that if the stress was chronic, the result was hypertension, increased inflammation, and a significant risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
However, the outcomes weren’t entirely positive in terms of drinking. Light or moderate drinkers had a lower risk of heart disease, but it appeared that they had a higher risk of some cancers. In addition, drinking more than 14 drinks (one drink is defined as 142ml of wine, 355ml of beer, or 30ml of spirits) was associated with overall lower levels of brain activity, which may indicate long-term effects on brain health and cognition.
In light of of these findings – as well as earlier scientific discoveries – Tawakol told CNN, “we are not advocating the use of alcohol to reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes, because of other concerning effects of alcohol on health”.
Even though they had fasted before having the scans and had no alcohol in their systems, Tawakol said that brain scans of light drinkers revealed noticeably less activity in the amygdala than both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers, suggesting that light drinking may still have an impact after the buzz wears off.
Researchers have also discovered that drinking at any level increases the chance of cancer.
While frequent beer, wine, or cocktail consumption may lower your risk of some cardiovascular events, they note that it may increase your risk of certain cancers or cognitive impairment.
They advise looking for other ways to relax.