A study published in the June issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that light to moderate alcohol consumption could benefit patients who already had some degree of left ventricular dysfunction, or LVD. LVD means that the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, is weakened.
It has long been known that drinking large amounts of alcoholic beverages can lead to heart muscle weakness, or cardiomyopathy. This means that the heart is inefficient at pumping blood to the body. If cardiomyopathy progresses it can lead to heart failure. Moderate alcohol consumption, on the other hand, has been shown in a number of studies to be associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease — narrowing of arteries in the heart — which itself is a risk factor for heart failure.
Researchers from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., led by Dr. Howard A. Cooper, compared the risk of death in 2,594 patients who consumed one to 14 drinks per week with the risk in 3,719 patients who reported not drinking at all. The subjects of the study included both men and women (mostly men) between the ages of 21 and 80 years.
When death from all causes was considered, the light-to-moderate drinkers had a 15 percent lower risk than did the non-drinkers. Drinkers had a 45 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks than did abstainers, as well as a 46 percent decreased risk of dying from causes unrelated to heart conditions. These reductions in risk, the investigators noted, applied mainly to patients whose heart problems were ischemic, that is, caused by narrowed arteries in the heart.
Results of this study, the authors stated, are similar to those previously published, lending credibility to the results. They also noted that the benefit of light to moderate alcohol consumption may be due to the effect of alcohol on high density lipoproteins (HDL or “good” cholesterol). Alcohol is known to raise the blood levels of HDLs.
The authors concluded that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption appears to be safe for patients with LVD, and that it may reduce the risk of death and fatal heart attacks in such patients. They noted, however, that “there is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of alcohol to patients with LVD who do not currently drink alcohol.”
According to Cooper the findings of this study should be interpreted to mean that patients who already drink should not be discouraged from having up to two drinks per day. In a press release accompanying the report, Cooper stated that “The current recommendations [for alcohol consumption by heart patients] should be readdressed and studied further.”