If you like to wind down with a drink, you’ve perhaps also rationalized the act with this often repeated claim: <<News Anchor: “You don’t have to feel guilty about imbibing a little red or white: in small amounts it is good for your heart.”>> But a new study finds that alcohol’s supposed benefit may in fact only be available to certain people—who happen to have the right genes.
Researchers studied 600 Swedish men and women with heart disease, and compared them to some 3,000 healthy volunteers. They asked the subjects about their drinking, measured their blood cholesterol, and sequenced each subject’s version of a gene that governs the transport of cholesterol to the liver.
Turns out, moderate drinking—a couple of drinks a day—appeared to lower heart disease risk overall by 20 percent. But subjects who had a specific variant of that cholesterol transport gene, and tipped back a few? They had an 80 percent reduction in heart disease risk. And the gene variant isn’t protective by itself; only when combined with booze. The results appear in the journal Alcohol. [Kirsten Mehlig et al: CETP TaqIB genotype modifies the association between alcohol and coronary heart disease: The INTERGENE case-control study]
Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of us have this variant. Study author Dag Thelle, of the University of Gothenburg, says that past studies which found what looks statistically like a slight heart benefit of moderate drinking in large populations, could actually just be detecting this huge alcohol benefit, in the small, lucky gene group. While the vast majority of drinkers get no benefit at all.
So any message here for drinkers? <<“In my view there is not. Not at this time. It’s far too early to say anything.”>> The study’s too small, he says, and has to be repeated. However, <<“Most of my friends they claim they drink moderately. But when I look at them I see there’s quite a large variation.”>> Before you order that next round, you might wanna take that idea to heart.