Red Wine a Day Produces Differing Heart Protection for Different People
One red wine daily may offer heart protection but death risk climbs after one
Jan. 31, 2012 One of the most often discussed topics among wine drinkers is the widely held belief that a glass of red
wine a day helps protect against heart disease. It is also one of the most researched of the health questions pertaining to alcohol
consumption. Now, Canadian researchers think they have new insight to the answer.
"It's complicated," says Dr. Juergen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at the Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health (CAMH).
"While a cardio-protective association between alcohol use and ischemic heart disease exists, it cannot be assumed for
all drinkers, even at low levels of intake."
The report on Dr. Rehm's meta-analysis, co-authored by Michael Roerecke, was recently published in the journal
Based on 44 studies, the analyses used 38,627 ischemic heart disease events (including deaths) among 957,684 people.
Ischemic heart disease is a common cause of illness and death in the Western world. Symptoms are angina, heart pain, and
"We see substantial variation across studies, in particular for an average consumption of one to two drinks a day," says
The protective association may vary by gender, drinking patterns, and the specific health effects of interest.
Differential risk curves were found by sex, with higher risk for morbidity and mortality in women.
Moreover, for any particular individual, the relationship between alcohol consumption and ischemic heart disease should
not be isolated from other disease outcomes. Even at low levels, alcohol intake can have a detrimental effect on many other disease outcomes,
including on several cancers.
"Even one drink a day increases risk of breast cancer, for example," says Dr. Rehm. "However, with as little as one drink
a day, the net effect on mortality is still beneficial. After this, the net risk increases with every drink."
"If someone binge drinks even once a month, any health benefits from light to moderate drinking disappear." Binge
drinking is defined more than four drinks on one occasion for women, and more than five for men.
Given the complex, potentially beneficial or detrimental effects of alcohol on ischemic heart disease in addition to the
detrimental effects on other disease categories, any advice by physicians on individual drinking has to take the individual risk constellation
(such as familial predisposition for certain diseases and behavior with respect to other risk factors) into consideration.
"More evidence on the overall benefit-risk ratio of average alcohol consumption in relation to ischemic heart disease and
other diseases is needed in order to inform the general public or physicians about safe or low-risk drinking levels," the study concludes.
"Findings from this study support current low-risk drinking guidelines, if these recognize lower drinking limits for
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reports it is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching
hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centers in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care,
research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction
CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health
Organization Collaborating Centre.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol
● What is a standard drink in the United States?
A standard drink is equal to 13.7 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
> 12-ounces of beer.
> 8-ounces of malt liquor.
> 5-ounces of wine.
> 1.5-ounces or a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).
● Is beer or wine safer to drink than liquor?
No. One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. It
is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type of alcoholic drink.
● What does moderate drinking mean?
There is no one definition of moderate drinking, but generally the term is used to describe a lower-risk pattern of drinking. According to the
Dietary Guidelines for Americans,1 drinking in moderation is defined as having
no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any
single day and is not intended as an average over several days.