One Alcoholic Drink Daily May Protect Against Heart Failure

Glass Mug of BeerAlthough excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease and liver disease, a new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that drinking up to seven alcoholic drinks per week may lower the risk of developing heart failure in the future.

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body for blood and oxygen. Common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing, buildup of excess fluid in body tissues (edema), fatigue, lack of appetite or nausea, impaired thinking, and increased heart rate. Untreated heart failure can lead to death.

Risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, heart valve problems, arrhythmia, viral infections, excessive alcohol consumption, recreational drug use, and radiotherapy treatment for cancer. However, until the present study, the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and heart failure risk remained unclear.

For the study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study on 14,629 participants between the ages of 45 and 64 who were recruited between 1987 and 1989 and followed for 24 to 25 years. The participants answered questions about drinking habits at the beginning of the study and at follow-up interviews at three-year intervals.

The researchers grouped the participants into six categories:

  • Abstainers
  • Former drinkers
  • Up to 7 drinks a week
  • 7 to 14 drinks a week
  • 14 to 21 drinks a week
  • 21 or more drinks a week

One drink was defined as a beverage containing 14 grams of alcohol, which is approximately equivalent to a small (125 milliliters) glass of wine, just over half a pint of beer, or less than one shot of liquor.

Of the total participants, 1,271 men and 1,237 women developed heart failure. After accounting for confounding factors such as age, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or heart attacks, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels, physical activity, education, and smoking the researchers found that participants who consumed up to seven drinks per week had the lowest rates of heart failure and former drinkers the highest.

Men who consumed up to seven drinks a week had a 20 percent lower risk of developing heart failure and women a 16 percent lower risk compared to abstainers. Among the former drinks, men had a 19 percent increased risk of developing heart failure and women a 17 percent increased risk compared to abstainers.

Additionally, participants who drank 14 or more drinks per week did not have a significantly different risk of heart failure compared to abstainers. However, a small number of participants in the study consumed more than 14 drinks per week, so an association between heavy drinking and heart failure might not be fully realized.

The researchers also found an association between drinking 21 or more drinks a week and increased risk of death from all causes for 47 percent of men and 89 percent of women.

The differences between the men and the women in the study is likely due to the differences between the way in men and women metabolize alcohol.

Comments co-author Dr. Scott Solomon, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the results of the study:

“These findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective. 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.”

A study from 2014 found that both exercising more and sitting less — not just exercising more — are also linked to a decreased risk of heart failure.


Alcohol consumption and risk of heart failure: The atherosclerosis risk in communities study:
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is linked to reduced risk of heart failure:
Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health:
One alcoholic drink a day may protect against heart failure:

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