Something to toast: Moderate drinking may reduce risk for heart failure

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A little nip may not hurt the heart. Secondary analysis of Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) found moderate drinkers had lower risk for cardiovascular events than those who had more to drink or abstained. Findings were similar for both men and women.

The research team led by Alexandra Gonçalves, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, went back to ARIC to look for differences in risk for cardiovascular disease among groups of early-middle age drinkers by sex. Participants self-reported alcohol consumption.  Based on responses, drinking habits per week were defined as abstained, former drinkers, up to seven drinks, seven to 14 drinks, 14 to 21 drinks or 21 drinks or more. Researchers defined a drink as 14 g of alcohol, the equivalent of approximately one beer, one glass of wine, or one 1.5 oz hard liquor beverage. Up to seven drinks a week was considered moderate.

Compared to those who abstained at baseline, men and women who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol had a risk for heart failure of 0.8 and 0.84, respectively. Over almost nine years of follow-up, moderate drinking retained the lowest risk for both men and women, 0.79 and 0.78, respectively. Former drinkers had the highest risk for heart failure (men: 1.19 and women: 1.17). According to Gonçalves et al, women who were former drinkers at the time of their first visit had a risk of 1.78 that reduced by about 3 percent each year thereafter.

They found little significant shift in risk for heart failure when assessing by sex, race or type of alcohol consumed. “In this study we found a marginally ‘protective’ association between baseline low alcohol consumption and incident HF [heart failure] among women,” wrote Gonçalves et al. “However, women seem to be more sensitive than men to the toxic effects of alcohol on cardiac function.”

Gonçalves et al noted that patients who already had heart failure were not included in this study. This may ultimately affect outcomes as the “heaviest drinkers may have developed HF [heart failure] before initiating this study” and cardiomyopathy may have occurred earlier in these individuals.

“No level of alcohol intake was associated with increased risk for HF, but heavy alcohol intake, which was low in this cohort, increased the risk of all-cause mortality among men and women,” they wrote.

These findings add further fuel to the debate about  the effect of moderate consumption and the risk of overconsumption of alcohol on cardiovascular risks.

The study was published online Jan. 20 in the European Heart Journal.