Could your doctor soon be handing over a prescription indicating: “drink more”? Recently released by the University of Calgary, an analysis of over 84 studies on the relationship of alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease, would like us to believe so. I’ve decided to share the natural nutritionists side to the modern day drinkers dilemma.
I recently headed out with my Mum, visiting from Canada, for a wine tasting in the Yarra Valley. This coincided with a rather timely e-update to my inbox from theheartwire.org indicating “Light to moderate drinking: Likely cardioprotective, but recommended?” You might also agree that this isn’t the first time you’ve heard a little vino here and there has been popularly accepted as a heart healthy choice. However being that one of my principles includes not accepting here-say, rather researching and applying my nutritionist’s perspective to heart health focus topics, dictated my need to delve further into the debate.
Dr. Paul Ronksley and Dr. Susan Brien’s meta analysis concluded that one drink per day for women and two for men has shown to increase HDL Cholesterol (the good one!), and decrease biomarkers for cardiovascular disease and strokes such as fibrinogen levels. The increase in HDL Cholesterol levels was shown to be greater than any currently available individual pharmacological therapy.
The study followed drinkers and non-drinkers without pre-existing cardiovascular disease, with an average of 11 years of follow up across the 84 studies evaluated. The effects were independent of whether alcohol was consumed in beer, wine, or liquor.
“…Alcohol, in moderation, may have overall health benefits that outweigh the risks in selected subsets of patients” says Dr. William Ghali (senior author of the analysis). However, the results of this analysis has massive implications for administering the advice to potential candidates of therapeutic alcohol consumption.
Dr. Ghali adds, “The strategy for counseling patients would have to be evaluated in pragmatic clinical trials that assess the questions of optimal patient selection, compliance, risks, and benefits.” Such considerations would need to include: family (heart) health history, family history of alcoholism, predisposition to mental health imbalance or addiction, age, current drinking habits etc…
Please note: it’s not all “drink up” advice. While the analysis I have reviewed here includes positive support for the incorporation of a drink or two a day in individuals with no contraindications, there does exist a flip side. Take for example, a study from the University of California that indicates the correlation between alcohol consumption and arrhythmias (irregular heart beats, heart flutters etc…). This study noted an increased risk with an increase in alcohol intake. Those particularly prone included binge drinkers.
“Even at the recommended one to two drinks per day, there was an increased and significant risk for atrial flutter. While alcohol in limited amounts is known to be cardioprotective, many patients with atrial fibrillation might be under the impression that they should be drinking one or two drinks per day.” Dr. Gregory Marcus (University of California) indicates.
Advocating a more widely accepted, less contested method of reducing cardiovascular disease through means such as diet and exercise is far more likely to gain widespread appeal, than the recommendation to drink more. Particularly when alcohol provides no nutritional benefit, being “empty calories”. We also can’t simply ignore the effect of alcohol on additional body systems such as our liver. Already typically overburdened with its role in detoxification and breaking down excess hormones and cholesterol.
My take? If we look at the preparation of alcohol, we know all alcohol is subject to some form of fermentation via fibrin (a fibrous organic matter), gluten (wheat), casein (an enzyme found in dairy), egg whites or yeast. This fermentation, while typically in the presence of sugar and high heat, does mimic the beneficial fermentation of probiotic rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut, tempeh and miso.
Probiotics, such as those in the previously mentioned food sources have been shown to reduce cholesterol by breaking down bile in the colon, inhibiting its re-absorption into the blood. Probiotics can also help to reduce inflammation in the body, which can also decrease your cardiovascular disease risk.
Is there a connection between heart healthy probiotics and the fermentation in alcohol? Of this I can only speculate. However, if I was to find an alcohol made from whole grains, and/or without the use of refined sugars in the fermentation, which was heated at low temperatures during the distillation, and has no added preservatives…I might be easily convinced. Do you know of one?!
If was to place my faith in any aspect of this debate; it would be in the celebratory enjoyment of a good quality drink for those who have no current pre-disposition to addiction, arythmia, or mental health disorders. If you find yourself in this category…Cheers!