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Could moderate alcohol consumption benefit heart failure survivors?

A new study from the Washington University School of Medicine has revealed that patients over the age of 65 who were recently diagnosed with heart failure can drink alcohol in moderation without making their condition worse. In fact, the researchers found a survival benefit among moderate drinkers compared to individuals who did not consume alcohol.

On average, survival for moderate drinkers was just over a year longer than abstainers. The study authors emphasized, however, that the findings do not suggest that non-drinkers should start knocking back drinks after a heart failure diagnosis.

“My patients who are newly diagnosed with heart failure often ask me if they should stop having that glass of wine every night,” said study senior author and cardiologist Dr. David L. Brown. “And until now, I didn’t have a good answer for them. We have long known that the toxic effects of excessive drinking can contribute to heart failure.”

“In contrast, we have data showing that healthy people who drink moderately seem to have some protection from heart failure over the long term, compared with people who don’t drink at all. But there was very little, if any, data to help us advise people who drink moderately and have just been diagnosed with heart failure.”

The investigation was focused on data from a past study called the Cardiovascular Health Study, which was conducted from 1989 to 1993 and involved nearly 6,000 adults. Among these individuals, 393 patients developed heart failure during the nine-year follow-up period.

The patients, who had an average age of 79, were divided into four categories for the analysis: people who never drank, people who drank in the past and stopped, people who had seven or fewer drinks per week, and people who had eight or more drinks per week.

After controlling for age, smoking, blood pressure, and other variables, the investigators found an association between consuming seven or fewer drinks per week and an extended survival of 383 days. The extended survival, which ranged from 17 to 748 days, seemed to peak among those who drank 10 drinks per week.

The study does not establish cause and effect, so the researchers cannot conclude that moderate drinking is actively protective. There may be some factors that are common among moderate drinkers which promoted survival.

“People who develop heart failure at an older age and never drank shouldn’t start drinking,” said Brown. “But our study suggests people who have had a daily drink or two before their diagnosis of heart failure can continue to do so without concern that it’s causing harm. Even so, that decision should always be made in consultation with their doctors.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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