The health risks and benefits of alcohol have always been a hot topic of debate in research. Alcohol is largely attributed as the cause of a multitude of health complications from high blood pressure to cancer. This new study, recently reported by Medical News Today and published in the European Heart Journal shows a counter-intuitive finding that a drink a day is linked to a lower risk of heart failure in the future.
Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to sustain the needs of the body. This inability is usually due to damage sustained after a heart attack. Among the primary contributing factors to heart failure are high blood pressure, heart valve and/or muscle problems, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), infections, and excessive alcohol and recreational drug consumption. Heart failure affects around 23 million people worldwide.
Data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study were analyzed by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston Massachusetts. This study includes 14,629 participants recruited from 1987 to 1989 with ages ranging from 45 to 64 years. These participants were followed for 24-25 years.
The participants were interviewed about their drinking habits at the start of the study and with follow-up interviews every 3 years.
The participants were classified into different categories based on the data gathered by the researchers.
- Former Drinkers
- People who drank up to seven drinks a week
- People who drank 7 to 14 drinks a week
- People who drank 14 to 21 drinks a week
- People who drank 21 or more drinks a week
One “drink” is defined as an alcoholic beverage containing 14 grams of alcohol, which is approximately 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.
2508 participants suffered from heart failure over the course of the study, with 1271 male participants and 1237 female participants. The group that had the highest rate of heart failure was the former drinkers and the group that had the lowest rate was the ones who consumed up to seven drinks per week.
Based on these findings, the researchers calculated that men who drank up to seven drinks a week are 20 percent less likely to suffer from heart failure, and women who drink the same amount are 16 percent less likely to suffer from heart failure, compared to those who abstain. They’ve also found that former drinkers have the highest risk of heart failure, with 19 percent higher risk for men and 17 percent higher risk for women compared to those who abstain.
The researchers also note that the protective properties of moderately drinking are less evident in women than in men, which may be due to the difference of how men and women metabolize alcohol.
These findings defy the expectation that heavy drinkers have the highest risk of heart failure as the study found no significant difference in risk compared to abstainers. But this may be due to the significantly lower number participants that are heavy drinkers, which may not be enough to detect an association. The researchers however did find an increased risk of death from all causes of 47 percent for men and 89 percent for women drinking 21 or more drinks a week.
The researchers took into consideration various contributing factors like age, blood pressure, heart disease, body mass index, cholesterol levels, physical activity, diabetes and smoking.
Co-author Dr. Scott Solomon, who is a senior physician at Brigham and Women’s hospital says, “These findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective.” He adds, “No level of alcohol intake was associated with a higher risk of heart failure. However, heavy alcohol use is certainly a risk factor for deaths from any cause.”
Despite these findings, experts believe it is still preferable to ask for a physician’s advice regarding alcohol and heart failure.
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