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Moderate Drinking Could Damage Older Hearts, Study Suggests

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Generally speaking, “moderate” drinking–or consuming about one alcoholic beverage each day–is acceptable from a health perspective. But a new study suggests that may not be the case if you’re a senior citizen.

The study, which was led by Dr. Alexandrea Goncalves of the Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, involved more than 4,000 adults with an average age of 76.

Goncalves’ research showed that when older people drank one alcoholic beverage each day their heart functionality declined in a small, but significant way. Increase the number of drinks to two per day (or about 14 per week) and the health impact is even more significant. According to Goncalves, it can lead to enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle wall, resulting in serious heart problems.

Unfortunately, it’s not abundantly clear from the study why drinking has this effect on the heart. That’s why Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a California-based cardiology professor not involved in the study, questions its findings. “While heavy consumption of alcohol can result in heart disease and heart failure, a number of studies have suggested that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes compared to non-drinkers,” Fonarow said.

But Goncalves says her study shows that new research needs to focus on the health impact of alcohol consumption among older people. She also suggests that new studies should concentrate on differences between men and women. “Women may be more sensitive than men to the toxic effects of alcohol on heart function,” she said. “Compared with men, women may develop alcoholic-related heart disease by drinking a lot less alcohol over their lives.”

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