A large study of nearly 15,000 men and women shows that drinking up to seven drinks a week in early to middle age is associated with a 20% lower risk of men developing heart failure.
The risk is a more modest 16% reduction for women.
Evidence already exists for the beneficial effects of drinking moderate amounts of alcohol on the risk of developing a number of heart conditions.
However, the role it plays in the risk of developing heart failure hasn’t been clearly established.
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump blood around the body as well as it used to.
The most common reason is that the heart muscle has been damaged by a heart attack. High blood pressure, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), heart valve problems, an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), viral infections, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, taking recreational drugs and the side-effects of radiotherapy for cancer can all contribute to heart failure.
Scott Solomon, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr Alexandra Gonçalves, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and colleagues analysed data from 14,629 people aged between 45-64 years.
They followed the the group for up to 25 years to the end of 2011 and they questioned them about their alcohol consumption at three-yearly intervals.
They defined a drink as one with 14g of alcohol, equivalent to one 125 ml glass of wine.
The lowest rate of heart failures occurred in those drinking up to 7 drinks per week and the highest rate was seen among former drinkers.
There was an increased risk of death of 47% for men and 89% of women who reported consuming 21 or more drinks a week at the start of the study.
Professor Solomon said the findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective.
“However, heavy alcohol use is certainly a risk factor for deaths from any cause,” he said.
“The people who were classified as former drinkers at the start of the study had a higher risk of developing heart failure and of death from any cause when compared with abstainers. This could be related to the reasons why they had stopped drinking in the first place, for instance because they had already developed health problems that might have made them more likely to go on to develop heart failure.”
The results of the study are published The European Heart Journal.
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