Alcohol may create significant heart health risks, study finds

Photo (c) Witthaya Prasongsin - Getty Images

Limiting alcohol consumption may help prevent serious risks like heart failure

A new study from the European Society of Cardiology suggests that drinking alcohol at levels that many countries deem to be "safe" could actually still increase consumers' risk of heart failure.

“This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed,” said researcher Dr. Bethany Wong. “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% beer.” 

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 800 adults over the age of 40 who were enrolled in the STOP-HF study. All of the participants either had pre-heart failure or had a high risk of developing heart failure. The participants reported on their alcohol intake, and then the team assigned them to different groups depending on how much they drank on a weekly basis. The last step was to determine how drinking affected their heart health. 

About half of the participants were considered to drink a low amount of alcohol, which translated to less than 10 grams of alcohol, or one bottle of wine, per week. A quarter of the group drank a moderate or high amount of alcohol, which was anywhere from 70 grams to more than 140 grams of alcohol per week, or over two bottles of wine. 

The researchers learned that participants had a higher risk of heart failure when they drank more. This was particularly true for those with pre-heart failure; for those who drank a moderate or high amount of alcohol, the risk of heart failure was nearly five times as high. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings prompt consumers to reevaluate their drinking habits. This is especially true for those who already struggle with heart health issues. 

“Our study suggests that drinking more than 70 g of alcohol per week is associated with worsening pre-heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure in Europeans,” said Dr. Wong. “We did not observe any benefits of low alcohol usage. More research is needed in Caucasian populations to align results and reduce the mixed messages that clinicians, patients, and the public are currently getting.” 

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