Older people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have less heart failure, Yale researchers report

April 16, 2001

Older people who drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol show a lower risk of heart failure, compared to older people who drink no alcohol, a study by researchers at Yale and Emory Universities finds.

Published in the April 18 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), this is the first study to demonstrate that increasing levels of moderate alcohol consumption is significantly associated with a lower risk of heart failure in a community-based population.

"These results add to the growing evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol may be beneficial to the cardiovascular system," said Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine and cardiology at Yale School of Medicine and an author on the study. "Our research also showed that different types of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor) were associated with similar reductions in heart failure risk, suggesting that it is pure alcohol, and not the type of beverage, that is associated with lower heart failure risk."

The study of 2,235 elderly people in New Haven, Connecticut, was conducted between 1982 and 1996. Study participants were, on average, 73.7 years old; 41.2 percent were male; and 21.3 percent were non-white. The investigators took advantage of a longitudinal study of aging at Yale that had enrolled New Haven residents who were 65 years and older. Krumholz said this group was ideal to study the incidence of heart failure because the risk increases dramatically with older age.

"Participants reporting higher levels of alcohol consumption had lower rates of heart failure," said Krumholz.

Study participants who consumed one to 20 ounces of alcohol in the month before enrolling in the study had a 21 percent lower risk of heart failure, and those who consumed 21 to 70 ounces of alcohol had a 47 percent lower risk of heart failure. These results were attained after adjusting for a large number of factors, including age, sex, race, education, angina (chest pain), history of heart attack or diabetes, heart attack during follow-up, hypertension, pulse pressure, body mass index and current smoking.

Despite the promising results, Krumholz warns that each patient must receive individualized advice about drinking. "Past studies show that heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to negative cardiovascular outcomes such as higher blood pressure, cardiomyopathy and sudden cardiac death. Therefore, individuals should continue to be cautioned against drinking excessive amounts of alcohol," he said.
Other researchers on the study included Jerome Abramson and Viola Vaccarino, who were at Yale when the research was completed and who are now at Emory University; and Setarah Williams of Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Yale University

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