Study: Alcohol In Moderation Better Than Abstaining For Heart Attack Survivors

Those who continue to drink alcohol after suffering a heart attack fare better than those who quit drinking according to a study published last month in the American Journal Of Cardiology.

Researchers looked at the health of a group of 325 moderate drinkers who had recently suffered a heart attack. 84% continued to drink moderately following their heart attack while the remaining 16% abstained from drinking. It was found that one year after the heart attack event those who continued to drink were 35% less likely to suffer angina, experienced 21% fewer rehospitalizations and scored higher on quality of life and mental health questionnaires. The researchers also found that three years on from their heart attack, the moderate drinkers had a 25% lower risk of mortality compared to the non-drinkers.

The researchers concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that continuing to drink moderately following a heart attack has any adverse health effects and in fact quality of life may be improved in some individuals.

Several mechanisms are thought to be responsible for the heart benefits of light to moderate alcohol consumption. Moderate alcohol consumption of up to one standard drink a day for women and two standard drinks for men is associated with a modest reduction in blood pressure and an increase in healthy HDL cholesterol. Furthermore, like aspirin, alcohol is an anti-coagulant meaning it reduces the clotting ability of blood, reducing the likelihood of a clot blocking an artery and subsequently causing a heart attack. This is a result of alcohol’s ability to reduce the production and expression of fibrinogen, a protein that play a crucial role in the clotting process. A 1999 study, which involved adding a small amount of ethanol (5%) to the drinking water of rats for 4 weeks, found a 20% reduction in circulating levels of fibrinogen. The researchers concluded that: “one likely positive benefit of moderate ethanol consumption is to diminish the production of fibrinogen, which reduces the potential risk exerted by this protein”.

Even though some alcohol may have a beneficial effect for heart attack survivors it is important that people don’t overindulge. Research conducted in 2004 found that heart attack survivors who had engaged in binge drinking in the past year (defined as 3 or more drinks in a two hour period) had a 73% higher death rate than those who had not. One or two beers or a glass of wine a day, preferably consumed with the evening meal, is probably sufficient to enjoy the benefits that alcohol can have on the heart while limiting the adverse effects.

The American Heart Association does not recommend that non-drinkers take up drinking following a heart attack due to the difficulty some individuals have in keeping alcohol consumption under control.