How Many Drinks Does it Take to Harm the Heart?

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How Many Drinks Does it Take to Harm the Heart?
How Many Drinks Does it Take to Harm the Heart?

(HealthDay News) — Moderate drinking may harm heart health in the elderly, and women appear to be at greater risk for this alcohol-related heart damage than men, according to research published online May 26 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.

Alexandra Gonçalves, M.D., Ph.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues looked at the weekly alcohol consumption of 4,466 adults (average age of 76) who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study. More than half said they never drank. The size, structure, and motion of various parts of the heart were assessed through echocardiography.

The investigators found that increasing alcohol intake was associated with larger left ventricular diastolic and systolic diameters and larger left atrial diameter in both genders. Women who drank even moderately -- one drink daily -- demonstrated increased risk for a small reduction in heart function (lower left ventricular ejection fraction and a tendency for worse left ventricular global longitudinal strain). Among men, higher prevalence of left ventricular hypertrophy was seen with higher alcohol consumption.

In spite of potential benefits associated with low alcohol intake, "our findings highlight the possible hazards to cardiac structure and function by increased amounts of alcohol consumption in the elderly, particularly among women," Gonçalves told HealthDay. This reinforces recommendations that those who drink should not overindulge, she added. "Compared with men, women may develop alcoholic-related heart disease by drinking a lot less alcohol over their lives."

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