We’ve all seen these headlines, pithily summing up research on why a modest amount of alcohol every day won’t harm, and in fact may help, our cardiac health.
But a new study from University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests that the protective benefits of alcohol are only present if you have a certain genotype, or genetic makeup. And your odds for having it aren’t good; it’s estimated that only 15 percent of the population have this particular genotype.
"Moderate drinking alone does not have a strong protective effect,” said Professor Lauren Lissner, a study co-author in a statement. "Nor does this particular genotype. But the combination of the two appears to significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The findings were published in late October in the journal Alcohol.
The researchers came to their conclusion after analyzing the genomes and comparing the drinking habits of two randomly-sampled groups: 618 people with coronary heart disease, and a control group of 2,921 people.
Both groups answered questionnaires detailing what kinds of alcohol they liked to drink, how often they drank and other lifestyle and socioeconomic factors like smoking habits, exercise habits, marital status and leisure activity.
Then the researchers analyzed the blood of both groups to search for the CETP gene. The CETP gene is known to regulate the process of transporting cholesterol from the peripheral arteries to the liver, which helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. A study from 1995 demonstrated how the process is influenced (positively) by alcohol, but subsequent studies hadn’t been able to fully replicate the result.
They found that only people with a certain CETP gene variation had the strongest link between a lower risk of coronary heart disease and moderate amounts of alcohol intake. While much more research on the subject is needed, the hope is that a simple test will eventually be able to tell people which category they belong to, said study co-author Professor Dag Thelle of the University of Gothenburg.
"Assuming that we are able to describe these mechanisms, it may be a simple matter one day to perform genetic testing and determine whether someone belongs to the lucky 15 [percent],” Thelle said in the statement. "That would be useful to know when offering advice on healthy alcohol consumption.”
This is the second time that a study has demonstrated a link between alcohol consumption, cardiac health and this specific genotype. The first was the aforementioned 1995 study, which analyzed 1,236 men from Northern Ireland and France. The current study included both men and women, but its conclusions showed a stronger link between genotype, alcohol consumption and cardiac disease protection among men, while the link was weaker (researchers called it “suggestive”) in women -- perhaps because there were only 165 women in the whole study, noted researchers in the study abstract.