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Moderate alcohol cuts deaths in male heart attack survivors

Two drinks a day lowers risk of fatal heart attack by 42%, study shows

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Moderate drinking of alcohol can help men who have survived a heart attack to avoid a second attack or heart disease generally, claims a study published online today in the European Heart Journal.

The US study found that men who were moderate drinkers and who had survived a first heart attack had a lower risk of death from heart disease or any other cause than non-drinkers.

It is already known that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and death in the healthy population, but so far it has been unclear whether it may also be related to lower death rates among people who have established heart disease.

Researchers analysed results on a subset of 1,818 men from the US Health Professionals Follow-up Study, a prospective study of 51,529 US male health professionals.

They found that men who had survived a first heart attack and who drank approximately two alcoholic drinks a day over a long period of time had a 14% lower risk of death from any cause and a 42% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than non-drinkers.

First author of the study Dr Jennifer Pai, assistant professor of medicine at the Canning Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and research associate at Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues studied the 1,818 men who had survived a first heart attack between 1986 and 2006.

The men were followed for up to 20 years from the time of the heart attack. During this period, 468 men died.

The researchers questioned the men about their alcohol consumption and diet every four years, and also asked them about other lifestyle and medical factors such as body mass index and smoking, every two years.

Participants reported their average intake of beer, white and red wine, and spirits. The men were sorted into four groups based on the quantity that they drank: 0g, 0.1-9.9g, 10-29.9g, and 30g or more a day.

Those who drank between 10 and 29.9g of alcohol a day – the equivalent of approximately two drinks – were classed as “moderate” drinkers.

After adjusting for various factors that could affect the results, the researchers found that the men who consumed approximately two alcoholic drinks a day after their first heart attack had a lower risk of death from any cause than the non-drinkers.

However, the results also showed that men who drank the most (30g or more a day) had a risk of death from any cause that was similar to the non-drinkers.

Dr Pai said: “Our findings clearly demonstrate that long-term moderate alcohol consumption among men who survived a heart attack was associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular mortality.

“We also found that among men who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol prior to a heart attack, those who continued to consume alcohol ‘in moderation’ afterwards also had better long-term prognosis.”

Dr Pai said that although the adverse health effects of heavy drinking were well known – including high blood pressure, reduced heart function and reduced ability to break down blood clots – there were benefits for moderate drinkers.

“Because excessive alcohol intake is harmful, we recommend that patients discuss drinking alcohol in moderation with their physicians to individually assess their risks and potential benefits”, she said.

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