BOSTON – Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that light to moderate alcohol consumption – categorized as up to one to two drinks a day – among men with hypertension, could help reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. These findings call into question current guidelines that recommend hypertensive patients should avoid alcoholic beverages. The study appears in the March 22, 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in the United States. To help combat this epidemic, studies throughout the United States pinpoint dietary guidelines to reduce risk including a recent release from the American Heart Association which stated that hypertensive patients should avoid alcoholic beverages.
According to lead author J. Michael Gaziano, MD, MPH, a cardiologist with BWH and associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), “Clinical trials and studies to date have discovered a variety of factors that increase and/or decrease risk for cardiovascular disease and death. Because of this research, scientists have demonstrated that commonly held beliefs – such as diabetics needing to refrain from alcohol consumption – simply are not true. It is important to not that, to date, research has not been conducted that highlights the risks or benefits associated with alcohol intake in patients who already have a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease - hypertension. The results from this study are the first step in better understanding the potential benefits moderate alcohol intake can have on men’s health and bring us one step closer to better addressing the epidemic of cardiovascular disease.”
Studies to date have shown moderate alcohol consumption helps reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease. This study’s goal was to determine if the same was true for hypertensive patients as well. Researchers analyzed data from 14,125 men, all part of the Physicians’ Health Study, with a history of treatment for hypertension but free of heart attack, stroke, cancer and liver disease. These same subjects had previously identified themselves as either nondrinkers or rare drinkers, or light or moderate drinkers. Histories for all the subjects were followed for 5 years, with researchers using cardiovascular disease mortality as the end point. The study found that, compared with nondrinkers, weekly and daily drinkers had demonstrated respectively, a 39 percent and a 44 percent decrease in risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
“Researchers agree that these findings need to be corroborated in other studies,” Gaziano said. “However, based on these findings, patients who maintain a lifestyle of light to moderate alcohol intake do not have a compelling reason to change their lifestyle and eliminate a possibly beneficial habit. Hypertensive, as well as other patients, should consult with their own physicians to help determine adverse versus the beneficial effects of alcohol based on their on personal histories.”
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