3 September 1999

Light alcohol use may protect against sudden cardiac death

by Kate Melville

Yes it's another in a long-line of reports that tout the potential 'benefits' of alcohol.

In the largest study of its kind ever, researchers have found that consuming two to six alcoholic drinks per week was associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death in men. "This is the largest prospective study to look at alcohol consumption and sudden cardiac death in men and the first prospective study to find a reduction in sudden cardiac death from light drinking," says Christine M. Albert, M.D., who works at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The research team looked at more than 21,000 men involved in a long-term study of male physicians and risk factors for heart disease. All of them were free of cardiovascular disease and provided information on their consumption of alcoholic beverages. During 12 years of follow up, there were 141 cases of sudden cardiac death!

The risk of sudden cardiac death was reduced by 60 percent in men who drank two to four drinks per week, and 79 percent in men who consumed five to six drinks a week. Sudden cardiac death usually occurs when the heart begins beating too rapidly or chaotically to pump blood efficiently.

The fact that it is estimated to kills about 250,000 Americans each year, gives an indication of the extent of the problem.

But rather than being an endorsement of drinking this report's results are based on some serious omissions - two in particular:

1 Light drinkers may have had other health behaviors that lessened their risk of sudden cardiac death

2 There was no comparison of the effects of drinking patterns (small amounts of alcohol daily versus binge drinking)

Even the report's author says, "Based on the data, I wouldn't recommend that non-drinkers start drinking. One has to consider all the risks and benefits of drinking alcohol. You don't know how likely a person is to become addicted to alcohol, and there is also the risk of cancer to consider.'

Editorial Comment:

People are sick of the scientists prevaricating about alcohol! There seems to more than adequate research for a reasonably definitive answer as to the benefits and disadvantages of alcohol consumption. When will someone do the meta research to collate existing research material rather than doing continuous discrete exploration that adds little to what is already well known?