Updated 09 January 2018

Your income can determine how alcohol affects your health

A large study has shown that the effect of alcohol on your health may depend on your income. Does this sound strange? Read more.

Do you still cling to the idea that booze may lower your risk of heart disease?

But new research has found that this mostly applies to the wealthy.

Alcohol's effect on heart health, good or ill, may rely in part on the drinker's income, a new study suggests.

A large study

For example, a study of more than 200 000 Norwegian adults found that having a few drinks per week was linked to lowered odds of dying from heart disease over the 30 years of the study.

But that trend was most pronounced in wealthier people.

On the other hand, drinking more than that – four to seven drinks per week – was linked to higher rates of heart-linked death, but only for people in the "lowest socioeconomic position", according to a team led by Eirik Degerud, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.

Drinking habits linked to income

The findings couldn't prove cause-and-effect. However, the researchers believe that any health recommendation that centres on alcohol should keep income levels in mind, since the effects of drinking seem to change depending on a person's pay cheque.

One type of consumption – regular binge drinking – appeared to be bad news regardless of financial background, however.

Folks who routinely get drunk on a weekly basis saw their odds for fatal heart events rise regardless of their financial status, the study found.

The findings are based on an analysis of health and wealth data concerning nearly 208 000 Norwegian adults. All had been born in 1960 or earlier, and all had participated in three decades' worth of compulsory censuses conducted in Norway between 1960 and 1990.

Booze does not affect everyone the same

Two cardiologists agreed that drinking's effects on the heart may not be a "one size fits all" proposition.

As regards the potential benefits of two to three drinks per week, Dr Michael Goyfman said that the rich may appear to benefit more, but the reasons behind that trend remain unclear.

Perhaps it may simply be that the poor are damaged more by even a little drinking, said Goyfman, who directs clinical cardiology at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, in Queens, New York.

Or wealthier people who have a few drinks per week might also be more apt to engage in heathier eating and exercise, explaining the supposed benefit.

Drink moderately

Whatever the reasons, Goyfman believes that the study, "should not be interpreted as an endorsement by researchers to encourage alcohol consumption, since alcohol can have an adverse effect in those with different medical conditions."

Dr Rachel Bond helps direct Women's Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed that, "in my practice, I advise my patients to drink in moderation. The detrimental effects from other organ systems outweigh any potential cardiac benefit."

"While my patients certainly do not have to abstain from alcohol, I educate them about the risks of excessive alcohol intake," she added, "both from a cardiovascular standpoint and for their overall health and well-being, regardless of socioeconomic status."

The Norwegian findings were published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

The conclusion

Several studies have debated alcohol's effect on longevity in the past. One should keep in mind that moderation is key and that, besides long-term effects on your health, alcohol can also have an adverse effect on your weight.

So whether you decide to kick the tipple to the curb this January or not, practise drinking in moderation and always ask your doctor's advice when not sure.

Image credit: iStock


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