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SALT LAKE CITY — A new study conducted by Intermountain Healthcare contradicts previous observational studies suggesting that drinking a low or moderate amount of alcohol can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Researchers in the new study found that for cardiology patients taking statins, the most common drugs for lowering cholesterol, drinking alcohol does not provide any additional help in lowering risk for heart problems.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Anderson, cardiologist at Intermountain Healthcare and principal investigator of the study, said recommending alcohol to heart patients has been controversial. He said more recent studies have been showing that drinking alcohol has little to no positive impact.
"We, as physicians, struggle with what to tell our patients about alcohol consumption in light of these new findings, especially since we know that higher levels of consumption have cascading negative health risks," Anderson said.
The study considered almost 5,000 patients split into groups of those who had no prior heart disease and those who had prior heart disease. Each group contained people who were taking statins and people who were not.
The study followed patients for about four years after they were asked about alcohol use before having a diagnostic coronary angiography; about one-third of patients had normal arteries at that time.
About 72% of patients in the study who drank alcohol were taking statins, and about 28% of those who did not drink alcohol were taking statins.
Within the next four years, those who did not take statins but drank alcohol did have lower rates of major adverse cardiac events than those who did not take statin or alcohol. However, in patients who did take statin there was no difference in the rates of major adverse cardiac events due to drinking or abstaining from alcohol.
"I don't recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to lower your risk. ... The evidence so far from our study and other studies (is) that there are better ways," Anderson said.
He said his study showed taking cholesterol medicine like statins is more effective than alcohol. Other studies have shown lowered risk of heart problems due to lifestyle, exercise and diet.
Anderson presented the findings of his study at the American College of Cardiology conference in Washington D.C. on April 3. Anderson said about 7,000 people attended the conference in person and about twice that many attended online.
Anderson said that this findings seem to be supported by a recent study by researchers at Harvard which suggests that benefits previously explained by alcohol consumption may actually be from other lifestyle factors common among those who drink low or moderate amounts of alcohol.
He also said the World Health Organization recently said alcohol is bad for health, and that the more alcohol someone drinks the worse it is for their health, which shows there are other studies showing similar results.