Several studies have indicated that light usage of alcohol (one or two drinks per day) may help protect against cardiac disease. However, because alcohol causes so many medical problems, and because for many people it is difficult to limit alcohol to light usage, it is the position of the American Heart Association (a position DrRich endorses) that people who don't drink should not take up alcohol in order to benefit the heart. Click here to read a brief summary of the potential cardiac benefits of light alcohol usage, and the AHA policy on "ask, but don't tell."
Now new evidence has come to light that ought to raise even more cautionary flags. Researchers from Boston studied 1835 patients admitted to the hospital with heart attacks, and recorded the amount and frequency of their alcohol consumption for the year prior to their heart attack. Specifically, they recorded whether patients consumed at least 3 drinks within a two-hour period during the past year - which they defined as "binge drinking."
After their heart attacks, patients who had done any binge drinking during the previous year had a death rate that was 73% higher than patients who did not do any binge drinking. Even occasional binge drinking - as they defined that term in this study - increased the risk of death. The type of alcohol consumed - beer, wine, and/or liquor - did not make any difference. The researchers found that, on average, patients who reported any binge drinking were relatively heavy drinkers overall - they drank an average of three beers a day.
Even if you believe the substantial body of data suggesting that a drink a day can be cardioprotective, this new information has to be, well, sobering. While a little alcohol can be moderately beneficial, a little more alcohol can be very, very bad. The AHA's policy of not encouraging patients to drink "a little" seems even more correct now than it might have before this study was reported.