Drinking good for you? Not if you’re an Indian

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The largest-ever study to investigate the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease among Indians has made an interesting revelation — even small amounts of alcohol consumption harms Indians. The study covering 4,400 drinkers and an almost equal number of non-drinkers in 10 cities by doctors from AIIMS, has challenged the much touted cardiac benefits of alcohol and has actually warned of potential harm to Indians due to drinking.

Did you think a peg or two would do wonders for your heart? Unfortunately, not if you’re Indian.

The largest-ever study to investigate the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease among Indians has made an interesting revelation — even small amounts of alcohol consumption harms Indians.

The study covering 4,400 drinkers and an almost equal number of non-drinkers in 10 cities by doctors from AIIMS, Centre for Chronic Diseases, Public Health Foundation of India and Madras Diabetes Research Foundation has challenged the much touted cardiac benefits of alcohol and has actually warned of potential harm to Indians due to drinking.

Contradicting often reported suggestions, mostly from western nations, that a peg or two was beneficial, doctors have now reported that those who consumed alcohol were at 40 percent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) that those who didn’t drink at all.

The study categorized drinkers in three brackets — heavy drinkers (who consumed more than 28 grams per day), moderate drinkers (14-28 grams per day) and light drinkers (less than 14 grams a day).

While light drinkers had a 40 percent greater risk of CHD compared to non-drinkers, the chances were as high as 60 percent among moderate drinkers and nearly 100 percent in heavy drinkers.

One drink was equivalent to 14 grams of alcohol (equivalent to 120 ml of wine, 285 ml of beer and 30 ml of spirits).

Dr. Ambuj Roy, assistant professor of cardiology at AIIMS, told TOI, “Benefits of moderate alcohol consumption have  been found among southern European populations from the Mediterranean region and Caucasians in Europe and North America. However, in Indians, it clearly causes  harm just like in African Americans.”

So why does alcohol’s effect vary between races? “It could be genetic. It could also be because of drinking pattern. Of the people we studied, 55 percent were binge drinkers and had more than four drinks a day at one go. Such amounts can never be safe,”  Dr. Roy, the lead author of the study, said.

The study mentions a few other reasons. “There may be heterogeneity in effect of alcohol on CHD in different ethnicities and the protective effect may be absent or more modest in populations other than that in Mediterranean or South Europeans. This could be hypothesized to be due to unfavorable variant of alcohol dehydrogenises which is known to impact the effect of alcohol on CHD,” the study said.

“Secondly, drinking patterns  may account for the difference  in results. In particular, Mediterranean drinking patterns are characterized by the use of daily constant amounts of alcohol mainly in the form of wine   which has been associated with protection against CHD as compared to irregular heavy or binge drinking that provides no favorable effect on CHD,” it added.

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