“To minimize the risk of alcohol causing damage to the heart, if you’re not drinking, don’t start.”
Madrid, Spain – Is there a safe level of alcohol consumption for heart health? According to a new study, the answer appears to be no. Researchers have found that even drinking alcohol, which health officials generally consider safe, shows a link with the development of heart failure.
“This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed,” says study author Dr Bethany Wong of St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin, in Ireland, in a press release. “To minimize the risk of alcohol causing heart damage, if you’re not drinking, don’t start. If you drink, limit your weekly intake to less than one bottle of wine or less than three and a half 500ml cans of 4.5% beer.
While previous studies have shown that long-term heavy drinking can lead to a form of heart failure called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, scientists have also found that low amounts of alcohol can also be harmful. Studies have shown this to be especially true among Asian populations.
“Because there are genetic and environmental differences between Asian and European populations, this study investigated whether there is a similar relationship between alcohol and cardiac changes in Europeans at risk for heart failure or pre-heart failure. heart,” says Dr. Wong. “The mainstay of treatment for this group is the management of risk factors such as alcohol, so knowledge of safe levels is crucial.”
How much alcohol is too much for the heart?
The researchers looked at data from a study of 744 adults over the age of 40 with an average age of 66.5. All of these people were either at risk for heart failure due to pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure or obesity, or had pre-existing heart failure, meaning they had heart abnormalities but no symptoms.
The study excluded former drinkers and patients with heart failure who already had symptoms of their condition. The team used echocardiography to measure each participant’s heart health over the next 5.4 years.
Dr Wong’s team used the Irish definition of a standard drink, which equals 10 grams of alcohol. The study authors then divided the participants into four groups based on their weekly alcohol consumption: none, low (less than seven drinks), moderate (7 to 14 drinks) and high (more than 14 drinks).
The researchers also separated the results for the risk and pre-heart failure groups. Overall, 27% said they had not drunk during the study. Meanwhile, 48% were light drinkers and 25% reported moderate or heavy drinking over the five years.
Among the at-risk group, the researchers defined worsening heart health as a progression of pre-heart failure readings or the development of symptomatic heart failure. For pre-heart failure participants, the team defined worsening heart health as worsening compression or relaxation of the heart muscle. The team also took into account several individual factors, such as age, gender, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and vascular disease.
Compared to the alcohol-free group of pre-heart failure patients, drinkers in the moderate or heavy drinking groups had an increased risk of worsening heart health by 4.5 times. In the risk group, however, the team did not find a link between moderate or heavy alcohol consumption and the progression of heart failure.
No benefit to drinking?
Additionally, the study found no protective effects from alcohol consumption. This differs from previous reports, which have found a link between moderate drinking and heart and brain benefits.
“Our study suggests that drinking more than 70g of alcohol per week is associated with worsening heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure in Europeans. We did not observe any benefit from low alcohol consumption. Our results indicate that countries should advocate for lower limits of safe alcohol consumption in pre-heart failure patients,” concludes Dr Wong.
“In Ireland, for example, people at risk of heart failure or pre-heart failure are advised to limit their weekly alcohol consumption to 11 units for women and 17 units for men. This limit for men is more than double the amount we found safe.More research is needed in Caucasian populations to align the findings and reduce the mixed messages that clinicians, patients, and the public are currently receiving.
Dr Wong presented the research at Heart Failure 2022, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).