Alcohol good for heart? Not really
Tribune News Service
- First-ever study in India dispels alcohol myths
- No evidence to suggest alcohol is good for the Indian heart
- Avoid sudden and excess drinking
- Drinks need to be taken with full meals
Who says moderate drinking of alcohol helps the heart? The first ever study conducted in India, not yet published, now claims that there is no evidence to suggest the firmly held popular belief that a drink or two protects the heart.
Dr KS Reddy, the Prime Minister’s personal physician who now heads the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), told The Tribune that earlier studies in the West claimed that moderate intake of alcohol protected the heart by enhancing insulin sensitivity and elevating high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which helps cardiovascular health.
But the claim has failed the Indian test, with the first-ever study on the subject in India showing that alcohol, irrespective of the quantity in which it is consumed, is always harmful and never protective at all. In fact, Indians drinking alcohol have been found to be at two to three fold higher risk of heart disease than non-drinkers.
Led by Dr Reddy, who recently oversaw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s heart bypass surgery at AIIMS, the study was conducted on employees engaged in 10 major industries across India and their family members.
“We have now shown in the Indian context that alcohol does not exhibit gains to cardiovascular health. Indians who drink face three fold higher risk of heart disease. The belief that moderate drinking helps the heart is not true for Indians,” Dr Reddy told The Tribune while pointing out that doubts are being voiced in the West too about the alleged protective properties of alcohol.
In 2007, the American Diabetic Association had claimed, “In individuals with diabetes, light to moderate alcohol intake (1 or 2 drinks per day; 15 to 30 ml alcohol) is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease…”
But Dr Reddy’s study, initiated when he was still at AIIMS, looked at people in India with evidence of heart disease. “We found that people with heart disease were more likely to be drinking in the past,” said Dr Reddy, who looked at population from industries ranging from machine tools in Pune and cycles in Ludhiana to the tea estates in Assam.
“Many etymological studies in the West have shown that alcohol is good for the heart. This has something to do with the high fat intake in the food of westerners. While fat is known to increase the tendency towards blood clotting, alcohol is known to reduce the same. But we wanted to study a population where fat intake is not very high, like in India. We concluded that alcohol intake among Indians tended to fuel more electrical excitability of the heart which in turn led to fatal events like heart attacks besides de-stablilising diabetes control,” Dr Reddy said.
Indians also have a tendency to drink at festivals and over weekends. Warning that the ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’ was extremely pronounced in India, Dr Reddy added, “Sudden and excess drinking must be avoided. Whenever people drink, they should take care to drink with full meal to delay the absorption of alcohol.”
The trend was confirmed by Dr Balbir Singh, chairman, cardiology, Medicity: “We are seeing more patients these days. It may have a relation to binge drinking over festivals. We can, however, say that the incidence of heart attacks is 20 per cent higher in winter.”