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Moderate drinking in later years may damage heart

May 26, 2015
American Heart Association
Moderate to heavy alcohol intake later in life may be associated with subtle changes in the structure and efficiency of the heart. Women may be particularly vulnerable to negative cardiac effects of alcohol at moderate to higher levels of consumption.

Drinking two or more alcoholic beverages daily may damage the heart of elderly people, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging. The study correlated weekly alcohol consumption among 4,466 people -- average age 76 -- to the size, structure and motion of various parts of the heart.

Researchers found:

  • The more people drank, the greater the subtle changes to the heart's structure and function.
  • Among men, drinking more than 14 alcoholic beverages weekly (heavy drinking) was linked with enlargement of the wall of the heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricular mass).
  • Among women, moderate drinkers had small reductions in heart function.

"Women appear more susceptible than men to the cardiotoxic effects of alcohol, which might potentially contribute to a higher risk of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, for any given level of alcohol intake," said Scott Solomon, M.D., senior author of the study and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of noninvasive cardiology at Brigham and Women's in Boston.

Previous research has shown that light to moderate drinking may protect against some cardiovascular disease, while heavy drinking has been linked with a higher risk for cardiomyopathy -- in which the heart muscle becomes larger, thicker, more rigid, or is replaced by scar tissue.

"In spite of potential benefits of low alcohol intake, our findings highlight the possible hazards to cardiac structure and function by increased amounts of alcohol consumption in the elderly, particularly among women. This reinforces the U.S. recommendations stating that those who drink should do so with moderation," said Alexandra Gonçalves, M.D.; Ph.D., lead author of the study and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Brigham and Women's in Boston.

Moderate drinking is generally defined as two drinks a day (beer, wine or liquor) for men and one drink a day for women. The American Heart Association guidelines and 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting alcohol intake to up to one drink a day for women and up to two for men.

Story Source:

Materials provided by American Heart Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Alexandra Gonçalves, Pardeep S. Jhund, Brian Claggett, Amil M. Shah, Suma Konety, Kenneth Butler, Dalane W. Kitzman, Wayne Rosamond, Flavio D. Fuchs, and Scott D. Solomon. Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Cardiac Structure and Function in the Elderly The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, May 2015 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.114.002846

Cite This Page:

American Heart Association. "Moderate drinking in later years may damage heart." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 May 2015. <>.
American Heart Association. (2015, May 26). Moderate drinking in later years may damage heart. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 10, 2023 from
American Heart Association. "Moderate drinking in later years may damage heart." ScienceDaily. (accessed December 10, 2023).

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