A daily glass of small wine or half a pint of beer doesn’t appear harmful for pensioners with heart failure and actually helps them live longer, a new study revealed.
The over 65s who drink moderately live more than a year longer than those who give up the booze completely following a heart failure diagnosis, a new study has found.
The findings suggested drinking moderately was safe for patients – but cardiologists warned their data was observational and did not establish a cause and effect link.
Dr David Brown at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis said patients often ask if they have to stop drinking. His new research confirms they do not have to – and perhaps shouldn’t
Heart failure is a long-term condition common in elderly people where the heart becomes too weak or stiff to pump blood around the body properly.
It can be triggered by a heart attack or other chronic conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Senior author, Professor of Medicine David Brown at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis said: ‘My patients who are newly diagnosed with heart failure often ask me if they should stop having that glass of wine every night.
‘And until now, I didn’t have a good answer for them.
‘We have long known that the toxic effects of excessive drinking can contribute to heart failure.
‘In contrast, we have data showing that healthy people who drink moderately seem to have some protection from heart failure over the long term, compared with people who don’t drink at all.
‘But there was very little, if any, data to help us advise people who drink moderately and have just been diagnosed with heart failure.’
He said the study showed a ‘survival benefit’ for moderate drinkers compared with those who abstained from alcohol.
On average, their life expectancy was just more than a year longer than abstainers – a difference the researchers said was ‘statistically significant’.
The findings, however, did not suggest that nondrinkers should start imbibing after a heart failure diagnosis, the researchers warned.
Prof Brown said: ‘People who develop heart failure at an older age and never drank shouldn’t start drinking.
‘But our study suggests people who have had a daily drink or two before their diagnosis of heart failure can continue to do so without concern that it’s causing harm.
‘Even so, that decision should always be made in consultation with their doctors.’
The data did not prove moderate drinking – one serving of alcohol for women, two for men – was actively protective.
Prof Brown said it was possible another factor or a combination of them common to moderate drinkers led to their longer survival rates.
The findings came from analysis of data from 5,888 adults who took part in the Cardiovascular Health Study from 1989 to 1993.
With an average age of 79, slightly more than half of the heart failure patients were women, and 86 percent were white.
The researchers found an association between consuming seven or fewer drinks per week and an extended survival of just over one year, compared with the long-term abstainers.
This was after taking into account lifestyle factors and the extended survival came to an average of 383 days and ranged from 17 to 748 days.
The greatest benefit came from drinking 10 drinks per week, but so few patients fell into that category that the data were insufficient to draw definite conclusions.
Of the participants, who were all on Medicare – the US’s national health insurance program – 393 developed heart failure during the nine-year follow-up period.
Slightly more than half of the heart failure patients, who had an average age of 79, were women, and 86 percent were white.
They were divided into four categories for the analysis: people who never drank, people who drank in the past and stopped, people who had seven or fewer drinks per week, and people who had eight or more drinks per week.
The researchers defined one serving of alcohol as a 12-ounce beer, a 6-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor – the equivalent to 0.6 of a pint or a 175ml glass of wine.
Researchers took into account important lifestyle factors in the analysis including age, sex, race, education level, income, smoking status, blood pressure and other factors.
The study has been published in JAMA Network Open.