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BOSTON — Few things in life are strictly black and white, and now a surprising study suggests the same goes for alcohol’s influence on heart health. Scientists at Boston University say that the consumption of alcohol may actually have positive and negative effects on a drinker’s cardiovascular health depending on the presence of certain metabolites. The research team uncovered 60 alcohol-associated circulating metabolites that appear to produce counteractive effects on heart disease risk.

Medical research suggests moderate alcohol consumption can lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), but recent studies have actually found the opposite — revealing that moderate drinking may be hazardous to heart health. This latest work, conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, is now shedding some light on the intricate relationship between alcohol and heart health.

Study authors report that drinking alcohol may have an impact on cardiovascular risk, depending on the biological presence of certain circulating metabolites. What are metabolites? They are molecules created either before or after a substance is metabolized. They are often studied as biomarkers of many diseases.

In all, researchers observed a total of 60 alcohol consumption-related metabolites. More specifically, seven circulating metabolites had a connection between moderate alcohol consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, another three circulating metabolites had a link to this same drinking pattern and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

The research team believes these results provide a stronger, more comprehensive understanding of the molecular pathway of long-term alcohol consumption. Moreover, this work stresses the need for further research on these metabolites in order to inform improved targeted prevention efforts and treatment of alcohol-related cardiovascular disease.

“The study findings demonstrate that alcohol consumption may trigger changes of our metabolomic profiles, potentially yielding both beneficial and harmful outcomes,” says Dr. Chunyu Liu, assistant professor of biostatistics at BUSPH and co-corresponding/co-senior author of the study along with Dr. Jiantao Ma, assistant professor in the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science at the Friedman School, in a media release. “Because the majority of our study participants are moderate alcohol consumers, our findings contribute to the ongoing discussion about the relationship between moderate alcohol drinking and heart health.”

“However, rather than definitively settling that debate, this study underscores the intricate effects of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular health and generates a useful hypothesis for future investigations,” Dr. Liu continues.

Men drinking beer, having toast at bar
(© Syda Productions – stock.adobe.com)

To conduct this research, study authors assessed blood samples to gauge the association between the cumulative average consumption of beer, wine, and liquor and 211 metabolites among a total of 2,428 Framingham Heart Study Offspring Study participants. All of those individuals are the children of people from the long-running Boston University-based Framingham Heart Study, which has been active for over 20 years. Among all participants, 636 eventually developed cardiovascular disease during the study.

Among the 60 identified drinking-related metabolites, 13 showed a stronger association with alcohol consumption in women than in men. Researchers speculate this finding may be the result of women’s generally smaller body size and probable higher level of blood alcohol concentration after consuming the same amount of alcohol compared to men.

The study also indicates that consumption of different types of alcohol may have a link to various metabolomic responses. Beer consumption generated a slightly weaker association overall than either wine or liquor. Among roughly two-thirds of the 60 metabolites, the team saw higher plasma levels in participants drinking larger amounts of alcohol.

It’s also important to note that branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) ranked among the metabolites not associated with alcohol consumption. Study authors then calculated two alcohol consumption-associated metabolite scores, which showed opposite associations regarding the development of cardiovascular disease.

“While our study presents intriguing findings, validation through state-of-the-art methods and large and diverse study populations is crucial,” Dr. Ma concludes. “To enhance reliability, we aim to conduct larger-scale research involving a more diverse racial and ethnic background, as the current study participants are all white. In addition, we will expand our study to integrate with other molecular markers such as genetic information to illustrate the complex relationships between alcohol consumption, metabolite features, and cardiovascular risk.”

The study is published in the journal BMC Medicine.

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About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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