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No amount of alcohol is good for your heart

The Heart Foundation has released a new position statement on alcohol advising that no amount of alcohol is good for your heart health and drinking less is a better option.

A shopper's hand is shown taking a bottle of beer from a shelf in a supermarket.

The new guidance released today supports people to make informed decisions about their heart health. It highlights the risks of alcohol and gives New Zealanders the opportunity to evaluate their drinking and take steps to drink less. 

“No matter where you are on the scale of alcohol consumption, less is better,” says Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin. 

“There are risks for your heart associated with drinking alcohol and the latest evidence shows an increased risk of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Alcohol also increases the risk of a range of heart conditions, such as atrial fibrillation and haemorrhagic stroke, and may increase the risk of heart failure.”

Around 20 % of adults in Aotearoa New Zealand are living with high blood pressure, so there is potential for significant health gains with alcohol reduction. 

For many years there have been commonly held beliefs that drinking alcohol in moderation offers protection against heart disease or that red wine is good for the heart. We now know this is not the case. There is now a greater body of evidence that clearly shows any type or amount of alcohol increases the risk of heart disease. 

Dr Devlin says alcohol affects the heart and blood vessels in multiple ways which includes impacting heart rate, blood pressure and functioning of the cells lining the heart and blood vessels. 

“Our latest guidance is important because it provides greater certainty about the effect of alcohol on heart disease outcomes and indicates there is no safe level or protective effect from alcohol. 

“We’re saying if you don’t drink alcohol – don’t start. If you do drink alcohol – it’s better to drink less. You can reduce your drinking over time. Any steps you can take to reduce the amount you drink will benefit your heart health.”  

Dr Devlin says people who drink the most have the most to gain when they start drinking less.

“For example, if you have elevated blood pressure, reducing alcohol consumption is likely to impact favourably on blood pressure readings. If you suffer from atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, reducing alcohol is likely to decrease symptomatic episodes.  

“The evidence is clear that every drink counts. It's also clear that it's never too late to make changes. Any reduction in alcohol intake can be beneficial.” 

The benefits extend beyond the heart. Dialling back the drinks can help to improve sleep quality, manage weight and may even help you to save money at a time when the cost of living is high.  

Tips to help you drink less: 

  • Have alcohol-free weeks and weekends wherever you can 
  • Choose alcohol-free activities or make your usual activities alcohol-free 
  • Drink slowly 
  • For every drink of alcohol, have a drink of water or soda water 
  • ‘Low’ and ‘zero’ alcohol products may help some people to drink less alcohol if they are consumed in place of full-strength drinks. 

The position statement is informed by the latest published research and international guidelines. The Heart Foundation has developed this position with advice from its expert nutrition policy group with external peer review.  

To read the full position statement and for practical advice on how to drink less go to alcohol and the heart.

Talk to your doctor to find out if the amount you are drinking is affecting your health and well-being. For free support, contact the Alcohol Drug helpline 24/7 on 0800 787 797 or visit for a list of services available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Key facts:

  • Four out of five (79%) New Zealand adults (aged 15 years and over) report drinking alcohol in the past year. Of those who drank alcohol, one in five (19%) were drinking hazardously - that’s approximately 986,500 hazardous drinkers 
  • There is strong evidence that alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure. For each 10 g increase of pure alcohol per day (1 standard drink) the risk of high blood pressure increases by 6%