Drinking alcohol may be helping your heart prepare for the worst. A recent study on mice found that moderate alcohol consumption causes your heart to stress out just enough to make it stronger.
The study was done by researchers from Stanford University and the Biomedical Science Institute of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The goal of the study was to see how acetaldehyde, a compound your body makes as it breaks down alcohol, affects the heart. What they found is that the same enzyme that helps the liver with alcohol digestion, aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH2), also preconditions the heart to deal with high levels of stress.
“Our data suggest moderate exposure to ethanol causes minor stress in heart cells but not enough to kill them,” Julio Cesar Batista Ferreira, the lead researcher, said in a statement. “Intracellular signaling is reorganized as a result, and heart cells eventually create a biochemical memory to protect against stress, also known as preconditioning. When the cells are submitted to a higher level of stress, they know how to deal with it.”
In other words, the cells in your heart learn to keep ALDH2 more active if you consume a moderate amount of alcohol. A couple drinks in this case is like the training you would do for a marathon. Your body is going to be a lot worse for wear if you jump into that long of a race without running some 5Ks and half marathons first.
The study was published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, but it’s important to take it (and all studies on the health effects of alcohol) with a grain of salt. It was performed on mice not humans, and moderation, as always, is key. More studies will have to be done to confirm the findings.