Heart failure: Alcohol consumption ‘currently considered safe’ could still pose harm

The signs and symptoms of heart failure

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According to research presented at a scientific congress Heart Failure 2022, drinking alcohol has been associated with the development of heart failure even at levels “considered safe”. Commenting on the findings, Doctor Bethany Wong, the study author, said: “This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed.”

Previously, a study by Monash University suggested that moderate drinking was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, a new study warns that the unhealthy drink may not offer these benefits.

Doctor Wong said: “To minimise the risk of alcohol causing harm to the heart, if you don’t drink, don’t start.

“If you do drink, limit your weekly consumption to less than one bottle of wine or less than three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer.”

The World Health Organization reports that the European Union is considered the heaviest-drinking region in the world.

While long-term heavy alcohol intake is known for its harmful effects on health, lower amounts might also be “detrimental” based on evidence from Asian populations.

The doctor said: “As there are genetic and environmental differences between Asian and European populations this study investigated if there was a similar relationship between alcohol and cardiac changes in Europeans at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure.

“The mainstay of treatment for this group is the management of risk factors such as alcohol, so knowledge about safe levels is crucial.”

Their research looked at 744 adults aged over 40 either at risk of getting heart failure or with pre-heart failure, which included risk factors and heart abnormalities but no symptoms.

The risk factors included the usual offenders, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

The study also excluded former drinkers and heart failure patients with no symptoms.

The research team used the Irish definition of one standard drink (i.e. one unit), which represents 10 grams of alcohol.

Low consumption was characterised as less than seven units while high was marked at above 14 units.

Seven units is the equivalent of up to one 750 millilitre bottle of 12.5 percent wine or three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer.

In the pre-heart failure group, moderate or high intake was associated with a 4.5-fold increased risk of worsening heart health.

Moderate intake was recorded between seven to 14 units – the equivalent of up to two bottles of 12.5% wine.

Unlike in the previous research, there were no protective benefits linked to low alcohol intake.

Doctor Wong said: “Our study suggests that drinking more than 70 g of alcohol per week is associated with worsening pre-heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure in Europeans.

“We did not observe any benefits of low alcohol usage.

“Our results indicate that countries should advocate lower limits of safe alcohol intake in pre-heart failure patients.

“In Ireland, for example, those at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure are advised to restrict weekly alcohol intake to 11 units for women and 17 units for men – this limit for men is more than twice the amount we found to be safe.”

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