Alcohol Consumption and Heart Failure

~ April 2002 No.145 ~

If you use your heart as the reason for taking up drinking you may not be helping your health as much as you think. Or are you? Over the past few years there have been reports that indicate that moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of heart disease. There are both lifestyle explanations for this reduction and biochemical explanations. It has been argued that drinking is a stress reliever and, therefore, those who drink may have found a way to cope with their day-to-day problems without resorting to drugs. As an aside - it has been observed that the citizens in Utah have the highest use of tranqulizers in the United States because the Church of the Latter Day Saints religion forbids the use of alcohol. Whether it is drugs or alcohol, people need a way to cope with their stress. Alcohol does affect metabolism; several studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption increases blood HDL or “good” cholesterol.

Cardiomyopathy is defined as a disease that affects the heart muscle, diminishing cardiac performance. There are several types of cardiomyopathy, including alcoholic cardiomyopathy in which the heart muscle damage is caused by years of heavy alcohol usage. Too much alcohol may be bad for the heart, but is, in fact, moderate drinking good for the heart?

Data from the Framingham Heart Study ( a study initiated in 1948 that has followed residents of Framingham Massachusetts and their children) shows that men who were regular drinkers (defined as 1-2 drinks / day) had a 59% reduction in their chances to develop heart failure compared to men who consumed less than one drink per day. In the study other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure were all taken into account. Interestingly, what would be considered excessive drinking - 15 or more drinks / week did not increase the risk of heart failure compared to the non-drinkers.

The study showed the same trend for women although the effect was not statistically significant.

None of the researchers are advocating increasing alcohol consumption as a way to combat heart failure, since several other serious diseases are directly related to increased alcohol consumption. But it seems that the causes of cardiomyopathy are very complex and what we eat and drink can have both positive and negative effects on our health.

Alcohol Content of Various Drinks (g/100 ml)
Beverage Alcohol g/100ml
Alcohol free beer0.04
Regular beer0.4 - 0.9
Wine3.9 - 10.1
Spirits29.2 - 31.2
Liqueurs10.9 - 31.2
Striped bass0.8
Source: Medical Students’ Handbook: Alcohol & Health
  1. Reference
  2. Alcohol Consumption and Risk for Congestive Heart Failure in the Framingham Heart Study Walsh CR, Larson MG, Evans JC, Djousse L, Ellison RC, Vasan RS, Levy DAnn Intern Med. 2002 Feb 5;136(3):181-191.

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