No alcohol is good for your heart: World Heart Federation takes aim at alcohol industry claims that drinking has benefits

The spotlight is on research indicating that even moderate drinking increases risk of stroke, coronary disease and heart failure, among other diseases.

Emma Jones 4 minute read January 26, 2022
People suffering from hard drinking. Concept illustration with depressed characters sink in various alcohol glasses. Alcoholism effects

Some members of the alcohol industry say that adults of legal drinking age are able to weigh the risks for themselves. GETTY

The World Heart Federation is pushing back on the belief that alcohol in moderation can decrease the risk of heart disease.

In a policy brief issued Thursday, the Federation pointed to research that indicates those who consume alcohol moderately may still be at 1.14 times greater risk of stroke, 1.06 times greater risk of coronary disease and 1.09 times greater risk of heart failure, among other non-heart related diseases.

According to the brief, previous studies have suggested moderate alcohol increase can raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol. However, they say these studies were far from conclusive and don’t deflect from the demonstrated health risks.

“Our position is that studies showing a significant cardioprotective effect of alcohol consumption have by-and-large been observational, inconsistent, funded by the alcohol industry, and/or not subject to randomized control,” Beatriz Champagne, chair of the group that produced the report, told CNN. “Furthermore, any potential cardioprotective effect is negated by the well-documented risks and harms, rendering our judgment that no amount of consumption can be considered good for heart health.”

The Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, issued by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, recommends that to reduce long-term health risk, Canadians should drink no more than 15 drinks per week (maximum of 3 drinks in one day) for men and no more than 10 drinks per week for women (with a maximum of two drinks in a single day.)

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has also noted that any benefits of drinking alcohol don’t outweigh the risks, writing that while some may find studies related to possible pros of alcohol reassuring, it’s not an invitation to start drinking.

These revelations might not be accepted with open arms, as the majority of Canadians are moderate drinkers. At least two thirds of Canadians 15 and older (21 million people) reported they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, according to a January 2021 survey from Statistics Canada.

Alcohol industry “reflects the universally vilified activities of tobacco companies”

The policy brief also says the studies that indicate alcohol may carry some health benefits, such as a glass of red wine, have been overblown by the alcohol industry and the media, leading to a skewed understanding of the risks.

“The alcohol industry has also perpetuated misleading information about the benefits of drinking alcohol. This interference by the alcohol industry closely reflects the universally vilified activities of tobacco companies,” the brief reads, also stating that some studies which show positive effects of alcohol are industry-funded.

Aren’t we all adults?

However, some members of the alcohol industry say that adults of legal drinking age are able to weigh the risks for themselves.

Matt Lambert, chief executive of the Portman Group (a U.K. group which receives funding from the alcohol industry) cautioned about exaggerating the risks of drinking moderately, causing “undue alarm.” The majority of adults who drink are “more than able to make informed decisions and enjoy alcohol sensibly if they chose to do so,” he told Bloomberg.

The Portman’s code of practice includes not listing health benefits on alcoholic products or through marketing efforts.

Canadians drinking more during the pandemic

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians increased their alcohol consumption during at the start of 2021, according to Statistics Canada. (22 per cent said their consumption decreased.)

Of those Canadians who are drinking, more are reporting they consumed five or more drinks in one day, a trend which health professionals warn can cause more hospitalizations, incidents of violence, and accidents. In 2017, 11 per cent of Canadians reportedly drank five or more drinks on the days they consumed alcohol, while 18 per cent reported doing the same in 2021.


Emma Jones is a multimedia editor with Healthing. You can reach her at or on Twitter @jonesyjourn


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