A new study found that drinking the equivalent of a small glass of wine or beer a day was linked to an increased risk of heart problems down the line.
The large study on alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation found that people who consumed one drink a day on average were 16% more likely than those who did not drink to develop the condition, which is characterized by an irregular heartbeat.
Those who develop atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of strokes and heart failure.
While the findings do not prove causation, they challenge the idea that alcohol consumption in moderation has preventive qualities like improving heart health.
US health officials recommend that men drink no more than two drinks a day and women drink no more than one drink a day to avoid the dangerous side effects of long-term binge drinking like heart disease, high blood pressure, and liver disease.
But new research suggests that even having one small drink a day on average may lead to long-term health consequences.
A study published by the European Society of Cardiology analyzed data from 108,000 people in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Italy from 1982 to 2010. The results found that people who said they drank 12 grams of ethanol a day on average - the equivalent of one small glass of wine or beer - had a 16% increase in their risk of atrial fibrillation over the next 14 years compared with those who said they did not drink at all.
The risk increased with more alcohol consumption, as those who reported drinking an average of two drinks a day had a 28% increase in risk and those who reported drinking more than four a day went up to 47%.
Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which a person's heart beats irregularly and rapidly, which can increase one's risk for stroke and heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, 15% to 20% of strokes are caused by it.
The study's researchers said it was the largest study ever done on the relationship between alcohol use and the condition.
While drinking four drinks or more in one session, more commonly known as binge drinking, is associated with a heightened risk of heart failure, researchers say the new findings challenge decades-old ideas about the preventive nature of alcohol in moderation.
The findings call into question the idea that 'one glass of red wine a day' is healthy
The idea that red wine helps prevent heart disease was popularized after scientists published a paper looking at drinking culture in France and heart health as a case study in 1980, endearingly called "The French Paradox."
The theory has had a lasting effect on public perception of red wine, but cardiologists say red wine's health benefits are overstated. Insider's Kelly Burch previously reported that the American Heart Association said drinking red wine did not lead to a healthy heart.
The new study was observational and therefore does not by itself prove causation, as factors other than alcohol use could be different among the people who drank more. Another limitation was that the study included only European adults ranging from 24 to 97 years old, so the data may not translate to a global population.
Still, the study's lead author, Dr. Renate Schnabel, a cardiologist at the University Heart and Vascular Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, said the findings directly challenged the French Paradox.
"These findings are important as the regular consumption of alcohol, the 'one glass of wine a day' to protect the heart, as is often recommended for instance in the lay press, should probably no longer be suggested without balancing risks and possible benefits for all heart and blood vessel diseases, including atrial fibrillation," Schnabel said.
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