The answer, of course, is more complicated that everyone thinks. For many years, we have been told, (and as a physician I have told people) that drinking alcohol in moderate amounts is good for the cardiovascular health. This is based on studies that indeed show a decrease in cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes and death) in people who drink alcohol moderately compared to non-drinkers or to heavy drinkers. The basis seemed to be an increase in the HDL “good” cholesterol.
Today, with the availability of genetic testing, scientists have been able to identify a subset of people (15-20% of the population) that may get a huge cardiovascular benefit from drinking alcohol moderately. According to one study, they can reduce the risk up to 80%. What this means is that if someone does not belong to this group, drinking alcohol in moderate amounts probably does nothing to the cardiovascular risk.
What are the potential lessons from this information? The first lesson is that Medicine is an evolving science. As knowledge increases, we physicians will be able to practice better and serve patients better. The second lesson is that individualized care is extremely important. Nowadays we tend to look for “fit-for-all” solutions. The reality is that we are all built differently.
Marco A. Ramos MD