Around and around we go with everyone’s favorite subject: can moderate alcohol consumption be good for us?
Many studies support the idea that your heart could indeed benefit from moderate drinking, and now for the first time scientists may have uncovered the exact molecule that is responsible for this. It’s called “Notch” and, while the average person hasn’t heard of it, it’s well-known in the science world.
This will help people understand why alcohol is good for the heart, and down the road could lead to a new treatment for heart disease. One that mimics the effects of Notch.
Large studies have shown that, overall, heart disease and cardiac-related death is 20% to 40% lower in light to moderate drinkers, compared to people who don’t drink. Even if the reduction is 20%, it still translates into a considerable benefit. This makes it important to understand how alcohol works its protective magic.
In the study, scientists found that alcohol at one to three drinks a day maximum inhibits Notch. This means that it prevents the buildup of smooth muscle cells in blood vessels, which contribute to narrowing of the arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Notch has shown that it influences what happens to those smooth muscle cells, which play a key role in the buildup of plaque in arteries. Here lies a potentially big link between alcohol and heart health.
One element of the new study was performed on mice, and it found that limited amounts of alcohol decreased Notch. This, in turn, decreased the production and growth of smooth muscle cells, leaving vessels open and relatively free of blockages or buildup. Compared to a no-alcohol group, the mice had far less blood vessel thickening. Then, in lab settings, they studied it on human smooth muscle cells. Moderate levels of alcohol significantly decreased the expression of the Notch 1 receptor and stopped Notch from signaling.
This is the first time anyone has linked the benefits of moderate drinking on heart disease with Notch. The next step — trying to find out how alcohol stops Notch from signaling — will likely be no easy task. Such pathways in the body are very complex.
The researchers want their findings to pave the way to potentially new therapies for people with heart disease. For the alcohol question, it means that moderate consumption could have a real benefit in heart disease prevention.