March 27, 2012 — After a heart attack, men who continue to drink one or two alcoholic beverages a day may live longer than heavy drinkers or non-drinkers.
Those findings appear in the European Heart Journal.
“For many men after experiencing a heart attack, major diet and lifestyle changes are recommended by their physicians, [but] our study indicates that for men already consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, continuing to consume moderate amounts may be beneficial for long-term survival after a heart attack,” researcher Jennifer K. Pai, ScD, tells WebMD in an email. She is an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Moderate amounts of alcohol may boost levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It may also make blood less likely to clot and reduce levels of inflammation in the body, Pai says.
Too Much Alcohol Is Risky
The study tracked nearly 2,000 male heart attack survivors for about 20 years. Every four years, they were asked about their alcohol use and diet.
Men who had two drinks a day (with a drink being 4 ounces of wine, a bottle or can of beer, or a shot of liquor) were classified as “moderate” drinkers.
During the study, 482 of the men died. Moderate drinkers were 14% less likely to die from any cause and 42% less likely to die from heart disease than non-drinkers.
Heavy drinkers were as likely to die during the study as men who never drank following a heart attack.
Most of the men did not change their drinking habits after they had a heart attack.
The new findings may not apply to female heart attack survivors.
Sandra V. Chaparro, MD, breaks down the new findings this way: “Men who have two drinks per day have the best survival rates after their first heart attack.” She is a cardiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “If you are consuming two drinks of alcohol a day, you don’t have to change that, because it has some preventive benefits,” she says.
But that’s not a green light to drink more alcohol. “High amounts of alcohol will damage the brain, heart, and liver,” Chaparro says.
Stephen Green, MD, agrees. “If you are a moderate drinker and have a heart attack, there is no reason to stop drinking,” he says. “Should you start drinking after a heart attack? Absolutely not.” Green is the chief of cardiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
Many health experts do not encourage teetotalers to start drinking for health benefits. “Given the adverse effects of heavy alcohol intake and potential interactions with medications, we recommend that men discuss their individual risks and benefits with their physicians before starting to drink,” Pai says.