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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
Alcohol 'protects old against heart failure'
Red wine
Moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial
Older patients at risk from heart failure might reap the benefits of moderate alcohol intake, a study has found.

Other researchers have already found that moderate drinking - no more than two units a day - seemed to reduce the risk of heart attack.

A team of experts at Emory University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine in the United States tried to find out if the same were true for older patients, who can develop heart failure.

Heart failure happens when the muscles of the heart lose their ability to pump as strongly.

They looked at 2,235 patients, with an average age of 74. None of them had heart failure when the study began.

What the research found was that moderate drinking seemed to reduce the risk of this developing, regardless or not of whether they had had a heart attack or not.

What was surprising was that moderate drinking was linked to less heart failure independent of heart attack risk

Dr Jerome Abramson, Emory University
Dr Jerome Abramson, from Emory University, said: "We expected that moderate drinking would be linked to a lower incidence of heart failure because moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of heart attack - which in turn would lower heart failure risk.

"What was surprising was that moderate drinking was linked to less heart failure independent of heart attack risk.

"That suggests alcohol is lowering the risk of heart failure through another pathway than the one that lowers risk of heart attack."

Those who had the highest levels of alcohol consumption within the "moderate" range had the lowest rates of heart failure, 47% less than compared to non-drinkers in general.

We do not advise people to drink alcohol specifically to protect the heart

British Heart Foundation spokesman
The type of alcohol involved appears to be inconsequential, with similar reductions for beer, wine or spirits.

Higher levels of drinking will not yield even more benefits, however. Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to higher blood pressure and heart problems.

A separate study, at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that moderate drinkers had a lower risk of dying in the period after surviving a heart attack.

The research, looking at 1,913 patients in, found that death from cardiovascular causes was almost half as likely in the moderate drinking group compared to non-drinkers.

Advice from the UK British Heart Foundation also agrees that moderate alcohol drinking may have a cardio-protective effect.

Alcohol abuse

"These studies investigate the extent to which alcohol can provide some protection for the heart - either in terms of reduced risk of heart failure or in improved survival following heart attack.

"Many previous studies have found that moderate alcohol intake is associated with reduced mortality from coronary heart disease and these studies provide further evidence of this protection.

"However, drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, abnormal heart rhythms, disease of the heart muscle and weight gain.

"One of the most common causes of hospital admission in the UK is alcohol abuse and, therefore, we do not advise people to drink alcohol specifically to protect the heart.

"Alcohol is certainly not an alternative to proven methods of reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and the BHF suggests other options such as increased physical activity, not smoking and controlling blood cholesterol levels with a low fat diet."

Both studies were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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