A massive new study has found that if you have heart disease, a small amount of alcohol daily may actually help you and protect your heart.
The study, published in BMC Medicine, has found that a small amount of daily alcohol could lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, angina (a type of chest pain), or early death in people who have already suffered such an event. The data is surprising given a January study that found that even a small amount of alcohol daily could harm your heart – but as this is specifically about those who already suffer from heart problems, it’s an important distinction.
Utilizing data from over 14,000 people, followed for 20 years, who had already suffered a cardiac event (heart attack, stroke, angina), as well as 12 additional studies that grew the sample to over 48,000 people, the study confirmed that drinking a very small amount of alcohol daily could be associated with a 27 percent to 50 percent lessened risk of a second cardiovascular event if you’ve already had one.
But the amount of alcohol one should drink in order to have a lower risk of a second heart event is a very small amount indeed. The risk of a second cardiac event was lowered by 27 percent for people who drank 8 grams of alcohol per day, and 50 percent for those who drank 6 grams of alcohol per day. That amounts to somewhere between 42 to 56 grams a week.
For context, a single standard drink has about 14 grams of alcohol in it. To effectively lower your risk of heart disease (if you already are at risk), you should be drinking about half of a standard drink a day.
So while that’s not exactly the most thrilling news for people — and certainly not a carte blanche to drink a few glasses of red wine with dinner every night — it is interesting that those who drank small amounts of alcohol after a cardiac event were less likely to have another than those who quit drinking altogether.
“The study applies to people who have already had something happen that relates to cardiovascular health,” said alcohol researcher Emmanuela Gakidou, who was not involved in the study, to CNN. “And what they find is that if you continue to drink after you’ve had a cardiac event, it’s not that bad for you, as long as you keep consumption low.”
It’s also not an endorsement of drinking alcohol in general. Previous research (some by Gakidou) has suggested that for other people, no amount of alcohol is good for you, as it leads to a heightened risk of cancer, disease of the liver, injury to self or others, and alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
So, if you don’t drink now, don’t just start drinking because a half a drink a day will be good for you if you’ve already had a stroke. However, if you still do enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir now and then, you can maximize your health outcomes by drinking smarter, not harder.