A few drinks a day do no harm to the alcoholic heart

For alcoholics who suffer from alcohol-related heart failure, cutting back alcohol consumption to a few drinks a day does not cause any further damage. In fact, the heart may actually begin to recover strength.

Researchers at Jefferson Medical College and at the University of Barcelona measured the heart-pumping efficiency of a group of men who were alcoholics and were suffering from heart failure.

They found that those who abstained from alcohol over a year had significant improvement in heart function. But they were surprised to find that those who drank moderately, from one to four drinks a day, also improved to the same degree.

"We're not advocating anyone with heart failure continue to drink," says Emanuel Rubin, M.D., Gonzalo E. Aponte Professor of Pathology and Chair of the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who led the study. "We're saying that for those individuals with heart failure who cannot stop drinking, several drinks a day may not do any more harm and even allow their heart's pumping efficiency to regain strength."

What's more, the researchers say they may have discovered a so-called threshold drinking level for alcohol-related heart damage. The results appear February 5 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

According to Dr. Rubin, a long-standing - and unresolved - controversy exists among those who treat alcoholics. Many claim that total abstinence from alcohol is the only solution to treat alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis, cardiomyopathy and pancreatitis. Others, he says, believe that so-called moderate drinking - two to four drinks a day - may be okay.

In the study, Dr. Rubin and his co-workers looked at 55 alcoholic men living in Barcelona, Spain, who suffered from heart failure. They examined over four years several measures of various heart functions, such as "ejection fraction," which

Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University

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