A little alcohol may improve heart health — here's why

A recent study found that light drinking can do good for the heart because of its quieting effect on the amygdala.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, analyzed data from more than 50,000 adults. It found, as many previous studies have, that people who were light-to-moderate drinkers — "moderate" meaning no more than one drink per day for women and two for men — were 22 percent less likely to suffer a major cardiovascular event, including heart attacks and stroke, over three years compare to nondrinkers. The stats remained true after researchers factored in influences such as smoking, exercise habits, medical conditions, education level and other elements.

Next, researchers analyzed PET/CT scans from 754 patients who had received the scans for medical reasons. They found light-to-moderate drinkers showed reduced signaling in the amygdala compared to nondrinkers. The difference in brain activity may explain the lower cardiovascular risk.

However, researchers emphasized that the benefits to cardiovascular health do not outweigh the risks associated with drinking alcohol.

"There is no 'safe' level of drinking," senior researcher Ahmed Tawakol, MD, co-director of Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital's Cardiovascular Imaging Research Center, told U.S. News & World Report.

He said his team is going to study the impacts of physical exercise and mindfulness-based stress reduction next.

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