Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_94670

Alcohol has damaging effect on heart, finds gene study

14 July 2014
Appeared in BioNews 762

Even light alcohol consumption is a risk for cardiovascular health, a genetic study has found, contradicting previous reports that moderate drinking can be beneficial for the heart.

The analysis, published in the BMJ, looked at the drinking habits and health status of more than 260,000 participants who took part in 56 studies. The authors found that people with a genetic variant that leads to lower alcohol consumption had, on average, a ten percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower body mass index and blood pressure.

'While the damaging effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the heart are well-established, for the last few decades we've often heard reports of the potential health benefits of light-to-moderate drinking', said Juan Casas, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which led the study in collaboration with University College London and the University of Pennsylvania.

He continued: 'In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker'.

The genetic variation involved in this study concerns the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B (ADH1B) gene. Those with a variant of this gene break down alcohol slowly and experience unpleasant side effects such as nausea, headache and facial flushing. This means that, on average, individuals with the ADH1B variant consume 17 percent less alcohol per week than those without it.

Previous studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption, 12-25 units per week, has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, but Professor Casas says that these studies may have missed behavioural patterns associated with low-to-moderate drinkers.

'People who drink low-to-moderate amounts are more likely to be engaging in physical activity and they're more conscious about quality of diet', he said.

Studying the long-term effects of alcohol consumption has been challenging, due to the difficulty of setting up trials involving many individuals who will maintain the same drinking levels over a period of time. However, the use of the ADH1B variant as an indicator of alcohol consumption, offered a controlled setting, which was less prone to some of the limitations of previous observational studies.

Dr Shannon Amoils, a senior research adviser at the British Heart Foundation said: 'Studies into alcohol consumption are fraught with difficulty in part because they rely on people giving accurate accounts of their drinking habits. Here, the researchers used a clever study design to get round this problem by including people who had a gene that predisposes them to drink less'.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, praised the study and concluded that 'we should not accept the dogma that alcohol drinking is good for us'. But he noted: 'This study has limitations because people with genes for alcohol intolerance may also have other unmeasured behaviours or traits that reduce heart disease'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
'Asian Glow' Gene Shows Drinking Less Cuts Heart Risk
Bloomberg |  11 July 2014
Association between alcohol and cardiovascular disease: Mendelian randomisation analysis based on individual participant data
BMJ |  10 July 2014
Heart health benefits of light drinking brought into question
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (press release) |  11 July 2014
Light drinkers could still be raising risk of heart disease
Daily Telegraph |  11 July 2014
One alcoholic drink a day could raise risk of heart disease, study finds
The Guardian |  11 July 2014
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
1 September 2014 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Mice lacking a gene called NF1 are less prone to excessive drinking in an animal model, scientists have found. When the researchers looked at the same gene in humans, they found that variations in NF1 are linked with increased risk and severity of alcoholism...
21 July 2014 - by Fiona Ibanichuka 
Genetically mutated worms, unable to become intoxicated by alcohol, have been created by neuroscientists...
2 December 2013 - by Dr Naqash Raja 
A gene mutation has been linked to alcohol preference in lab mice, a team of researchers from five UK universities has found...
18 July 2011 - by Chris Chatterton 
Scottish scientists have identified a genetic region that may have a role to play in why humans crave 'fatty foods'. The researchers, from Aberdeen University, identified a DNA region close to the galanin (GAL) gene that helps to regulate the production of this protein...
11 July 2011 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Alcohol can cause irreparable DNA damage and fetal abnormalities in pregnant mice, a study has found. The findings may explain how excessive drinking during pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome, which can lead to lifelong learning disabilities...
25 January 2010 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
New research has shown that drinking during pregnancy can cause permanent genetic changes to the DNA of the developing fetus. The findings, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, may aid in the development of a diagnosis for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)....
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.