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Diet & Health : Heart & Blood Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Moderate alcohol drinking may lower heart attack risk
By Ben Wasserman -
Jan 1, 2007 - 10:06:24 PM

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If you have hypertension, your physician may likely have told you to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages, which are known to raise blood pressure.   Hypertension diagnosed in an estimated 65 million men and women in the U.S has been associated with a two-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease and total mortality.

But your physician's advice may change as a new study, which appears in the January 2, 2007, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that moderate alcohol drinking was linked with reduced risk of heart attack in hypertensive men.

The study also found that hypertensive men who drank one or two drinks of per day – so called moderate alcohol drinking would not have to face a higher risk of cardiovascular events and death from heart attack and stroke. 

Assumably, the hypertensive men still have higher risk of heart disease than men with normal blood pressure regardless of their drinking status.

Experts quickly warned that due to the nature of this type of study, which is prone to errors and biases, the results along do not mean hypertension patients should jump start drinking or keep drinking alcohol even in moderation.

Some early studies have found that moderately drinking alcohol, up to one or two drinks a day may decrease risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and total mortality.   Some studies even resulted in a link between moderate consumption and lower CVD mortality in men with hypertension.

Dr Rod Jackson and colleagues from Auckland University reported in a British medical journal called The Lancet that the seemingly protective effect of alcohol may result from "confused research" or inadequate designs.  One typical problem with these studies is that they classified those subjects who had heart disease, but stopped drinking alcohol, as nondrinkers.   They said that the benefit, if any at all, from light to moderate drinking is probably too small to outweigh detrimental effects of alcohol on the health.

A review study published in the May, 2006 issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory has found that the majority of those studies which gave a thumbs-up to moderate drinking are flawed because they failed to take into account the age and the illnesses of those who said they abstained from drinking, according to an international group of researchers from the United States, Canada and Australia.

Regardless, one finding from the current study was in agreement with what was found early, that is, having more than two drinks of alcohol a day may increase the risk of hypertension.

The current study meant to examine whether moderate drinking of alcohol was associated with non-fatal myocardial infarction (MI) such as a heart attack or stroke.

In what's believed to be the first study to examine the risk of heart attack among men with high blood pressure who drank moderately, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dutch research institute TNO Quality of Life and Wageningen University, the Netherlands found that hypertensive men who drank alcohol in moderation had a decreased risk of fatal and non-fatal heart attack.

The researchers also found that moderate drinking of alcohol was not linked with higher rates of stroke and death from MI and all causes in hypertensive men.

The study involved 11,711 hypertensive men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which began in 1986.  Participants were followed every four years to survey what they drank and how frequently.  During the follow-up, 653 cases of total MI were documented, 279 fatal and 374 non-fatal. Cases of non-fatal MI, fatal heart disease and stroke were documented until 2002.

The researchers observed that having one to two drinks a day was associated with a decreased risk of fatal and non-fatal MI.  In addition, no association was found between alcohol consumption and risks of cardiovascular and total mortality in the hypertensive men.

The correlation between alcohol consumption and lower heart attack was still significant even after other factors in both drinkers and non-drinkers were considered including the participants’ diet, physical activity and weight, according to the study.

"Our results suggest that (asking men with hypertension to refrain from drinking) may not be necessary if men drink safely and responsibly," said lead author Joline Beulens, a PhD-fellow at TNO Quality of Life and Wageningen University.

Still, "it is important for all individuals with high blood pressure to discuss their alcohol intake with their physicians, as heavy consumption, even occasionally, can raise blood pressure.” Kenneth Mukamal, internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The study was based on data from male health care professionals. It is unknown whether the findings apply to women or men in different occupations, the researchers cautioned.

Victor Kipnis, Ph.D. at the National Cancer Institute, and colleagues said in an editorial accompanying to the current study, "We cannot assume that corrected estimates of diet-disease associations in any single study are definitive."

A chemist affiliated with said that the results of a population study like the current study do not apply to each individual even if the correlation is true. Some people who are not tolerant to alcohol would suffer even if they drink moderately.  

Alcohol drinking is known to cause other health problems in addition to raising blood presssure.  When it comes to alcohol drinking, American physicians suggest that if you don’t drink, don’t get started.  If you drink, drink in moderation.


"Alcohol Consumption and Risk for Coronary Heart Disease Among Men With Hypertension," Joline W.J. Beulens, Eric B. Rimm, Alberto Ascherio, Donna Spiegelman, Henk F.J. Hendriks, Kenneth J. Mukamal, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2007; 146:10-19.


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Daily Drink or Two Cuts Healthy Men's Heart Attack Risk

Red wine can help prevent stroke damage?

No evidence proves moderate drinking is heart healthy

Light Drinking Cuts Risk for Death, Heart Attack

No evidence proves moderate drinking is heart healthy

Drinking alcohol doesn't help heart disease

Moderate alcohol consumption can act as a blood thinner

Heavy drinking linked to atrial fibrillation

Drinking red wine, beer raises blood pressure

Drinking alcohol doesn't prevent heart attacks, strokes, study shows

Too much alcohol may lead to hypertension

Heavy drinking linked to higher stroke risk

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