Alcohol could help people at risk of heart disease but not those with a family history of cancer

Woman with glass of wine

Researchers have found that drinking alcohol in moderation could have health benefits for people at risk of heart disease.

Their results have also found that people who have a family history of cancer would be better off avoiding alcohol altogether.

The research team at the University of Washington studied data sets from 400,00 people in a bid to find out whether the amount of alcohol a person drank throughout the week had the effect of either prolonging their life or causing them to die early.

Some of the people in the study had been monitored since the 1950s.

The data suggested that people who drank one or two drinks everyday were putting themselves at a 20% higher risk of a premature death than those who drank three times per week or less.

However, when other considerations were taken into account it seemed that moderate drinking could be beneficial to people with certain health risks.

For example, people who had a few drinks per week were found to have lowered their risk of dying early of a cardiovascular disease by around 25%, compared to those who drank nothing.

Unfortunately, this amount of alcohol also increased a person’s risk of cancer by around 8%.

Dr Sarah Hartz was the lead author of the study. She advised people who are a high risk of cancer to avoid alcohol altogether but said that having an occasional drink could be helpful for those at risk of heart disease.

Dr Hartz said: “Consuming one or two drinks about four days per week seemed to protect against cardiovascular disease, but drinking every day eliminated those benefits.

“Drinking four days, one to two drinks, may be helpful for people concerned about coronary heart disease but not who are concerned about cancer.

“With regard to cancer risk, any drinking at all was detrimental. If you tailor medical recommendations to an individual person, there may be situations under which you would think that occasional drinking potentially could be helpful. But overall, I do think people should no longer consider a glass of wine a day to somehow be healthy.”

Dr Hartz ‘s study comes after a similar research into data from over 700 studies around the world was published in The Lancet.

The previous research concluded that the cutting alcohol consumption altogether was the safest thing a person could do.

However, Dr Hartz’s study was based purely on light drinking, rather than all types of drinking including heavy drinking and binge drinking.

Her study was broken down into two large groups; 340,668 participants, ages 18-85 and 93,653 individuals, ages 40-60.

She said that a person’s age group has to be taken into account when assessing how much risk they are putting themselves under with their drinking habits.

Dr Hartz said: “A 20 percent increase in risk of death is a much bigger deal in older people who already are at higher risk.

“Relatively few people die in their 20s, so a 20 percent increase in mortality is small but still significant. As people age, their risk of death from any cause also increases, so a 20 percent risk increase at age 75 translates into many more deaths than it does at age 25.”

She added greater research on the subject could make it possible for doctors to personalise their recommendations to each individual patient.