Campus & Community

Drinkers less likely to die from heart attacks

4 min read

People with heart disease who consume an average of 14 alcoholic drinks a week appear less likely to die from a heart attack than nondrinkers. Low to moderate drinking is also associated with a lower risk of heart failure among older people.

These are the conclusions of two studies published Wednesday, April 18, in the scientifically reliable Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the first study, researchers checked 1,913 people hospitalized for heart attacks. After four years of follow-up, they found that moderate drinkers enjoyed a 32 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than those who didn’t drink any alcohol. The researchers defined moderate drinkers as those who downed at least seven or an average of 14 drinks of beer, wine, or liquor a week.

Light drinkers, or those who consumed fewer than seven alcoholic drinks, boasted a 21 percent lower risk of heart attack death than the abstainers. Results were similar for both men and women.

“Our study does not answer the question whether alcohol is good for you,” says Kenneth Mukamal, an instructor at the Harvard Medical School who led the study. “[Our] findings are consistent with a lower risk of death from drinking a limited amount of alcohol, but we don’t know if people who are nondrinkers would also have a lower risk of death if they started drinking alcohol.”

Both articles and an editorial in the same edition of the journal cautioned that people should consult with a physician before starting to drink or raising their consumption to 14 drinks a week.

Earlier research found that drinking one or two glasses of red wine a day provided protection for the heart. That led to a belief that some ingredient of grapes was responsible. But this and other studies indicate it’s the alcohol because beer and wine offer the same advantage.

Mukamal and his colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and other Harvard-affiliated hospitals in Boston followed their subjects for about four years, during which 17 percent of the nondrinkers died from cardiovascular problems, compared with 9 percent of light drinkers and 7 percent of moderate drinkers.

Older people benefit, too

The second study, according to its authors, demonstrates that low to moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with a lower risk of heart failure among older people.

Jerome Abramson of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and his colleagues reached this conclusion after following 2,237 people, average age 74 years old, for as long as 14 years.

Abramson and his colleagues noted that heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to heart failure, but until this study the relationship between moderate drinking and heart failure was not known. “The current study demonstrates for the first time that moderate alcohol consumption is significantly associated with a lower risk of heart failure,” they wrote.

Beer, wine, and liquor “were associated with similar reductions in heart failure, suggesting that it is pure alcohol, not the type of beverage, that is associated with lower heart failure risk,” the researchers noted.

Heart failure occurs when the heart’s chambers become too weak to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body. It leads to fatigue and shortness of breath and is a common reason for hospitalization among older people.

Both studies took into account the differences in age, weight, sex, blood pressure, heart disease history, and other factors among those people included in their research.

This research adds to more than 70 other studies providing evidence that moderate drinking reduces the chances of heart attacks and some types or stokes. However,

Abramson cautions that “heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to negative cardiovascular outcomes such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and sudden cardiac death.” Other doctors warn that moderate drinking may also raise the risks of colon and breast cancer, some types of stroke, fetal damage, driving accidents, abusive behavior, and criminal activities.