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Alcohol is riskier to the heart than previously thought

A new study presented at Heart Failure 2022 – a conference organized by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) – has found that levels of alcohol consumption currently considered safe by many countries are associated with the development of heart failure. The results suggest that consuming more than 70 grams of alcohol per week is linked to worsening pre-heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure in European populations.

“This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed,” explained study author Dr. Bethany Wong, an expert on the relationship between alcohol use and heart hearth at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. “To minimize the risk of alcohol causing harm to the heart, if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit your weekly consumption to less than one bottle of wine or less than three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5 percent beer.”

While it is well-recognized that long-term heavy alcohol intake can lead to a type of heart failure called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, evidence from Asian populations suggests that even lower amounts may negatively impact heart health. Since there are genetic and environmental differences between Asian and European populations, Dr. Wong and her colleagues enrolled a cohort of 744 Europeans over 40 years of age either at-risk of developing heart failure due to pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, or diagnosed with pre-heart failure (risk factors and heart abnormalities but no symptoms) in order to investigate the effect of alcohol consumption on their heart health.

By following the participants over a period of 5.4 years, the scientists found that, in the pre-heart failure group, moderate or high-alcohol intake (over 7 units of alcohol per week, or more than one bottle of wine/3.5 beers) was associated with a 4.5-fold increased risk of worsening heart health. However, in the at-risk group, no association between moderate or high alcohol use with progression to pre-heart failure or symptomatic heart failure was discovered. While some previous studies have argued that low alcohol intake could have health benefits, the current investigation found no evidence for this.

“Our results indicate that countries should advocate lower limits of safe alcohol intake in pre-heart failure patients,” said Dr. Wong. “In Ireland, for example, those at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure are advised to restrict weekly alcohol intake to 11 units for women and 17 units for men. This limit for men is more than twice the amount we found to be safe. More research is needed in Caucasian populations to align results and reduce the mixed messages that clinicians, patients, and the public are currently getting,” she concluded.  


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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