Moderate drinking linked with heart attack survival, less heart failure

Wednesday, April 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ People who have a drink or so daily are more likely than teetotalers to survive a heart attack and less likely to develop heart failure, two studies suggest.

The findings add to the suspected benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.

Extensive research has shown that moderate drinkers are less likely to have heart attacks than abstainers, and heavy drinking has been linked to heart failure. But there is little research on the effects of moderate drinking on heart attack survival and heart failure.

The new research appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Still, doctors are not prepared to routinely prescribe booze, because of the possible effects on such things as breast cancer, fetal defects and colon cancer, Dr. Arthur L. Klatsky said in an accompanying editorial. Also, moderate drinking can lead to problem drinking, he said.

Klatsky, a researcher with the cardiology division of Kaiser Permanente, an HMO in Oakland, Calif., said doctors should weigh an individual's risks in determining the possible benefits of drinking.

In one of the studies, Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and colleagues interviewed 1,913 heart attack patients hospitalized nationwide between 1989 and 1994. The men and women were asked about their drinking habits in the preceding year. Death records through 1995 showed 317 died, about three-fourths from heart-related causes.

Compared with abstainers, light drinkers (under seven drinks a week) were about 20 percent less likely to die and moderate drinkers (seven or more drinks a week) were about 30 percent less likely to die.

It made little difference whether the patients drank mostly wine, beer or liquor.

The researchers said the numbers were too small to evaluate the effects of heavy drinking.

The studies did not look at exactly why moderate drinking appeared to have a protective effect.

But alcohol has been shown to increase levels of so-called good cholesterol and can make blood less likely to clot. Also, while heavy drinking can raise blood pressure, modest drinking can lower it. In addition, animal studies have shown that alcohol can blunt the effects of certain hormones that may stimulate the progression of heart failure.

The heart failure study asked 2,235 men and women of New Haven, Conn., age 74 on average, about their drinking habits in the previous month. They were questioned in 1982 and followed for up to 14 years. A total of 281 were diagnosed with heart failure.

Compared with nondrinkers, those who had at least 1 1/2 drinks a day were about 20 percent to nearly 50 percent less likely to develop heart failure, with the protective effect increasing with the amount consumed.

The researchers, led by Emory University heart specialist Jerome Abramson, said the results should be interpreted with caution since moderate drinkers may have healthier diets and lifestyles, too.