Having a drink or two a day might be good for the heart when you’re young, but even just a couple of drinks a day may damage your heart when you start to become elderly, a new study shows.
Women are especially vulnerable to the effects of even a few drinks, the researchers report in the journal Circulation. In both men and women, a couple of drinks a day tended to affect the heart’s structure, making it work less efficiently.
“Women seem to be more sensitive than men to the toxic effects of alcohol on cardiac function, developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy with a lower total lifetime dose of alcohol compared with men,” Dr. Scott Solomon of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and colleagues wrote.
“We found that increasing alcohol intake in among the elderly is associated with mild alterations in cardiac structure and function.”
For their study, Solomon’s team surveyed 4,466 people with an average age of 76. They all underwent heart scans, also.
About half of them said they didn’t drink at all. The team defined one drink as 14 grams of ethanol, which is about a 5 ounce glass of wine, a bit more than a 12-ounce serving of beer or just under an ounce-and-a-half of spirits.
Alcohol seemed to most affect the left ventricle, which is the pumping chamber of the heart. The more people drank, the more their heart's structure and function changed.
Light to moderate drinking is supposed to be healthful, although alcohol is known to be toxic to the heart. Heavy drinking clearly damages the heart, making heart muscles thicker and more rigid.
The American Heart Association guidelines and 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting alcohol to about one drink a day for women and up to two for men.
Why can women drink less safely? “Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men, and women seem to be more sensitive than men to the toxic effects of alcohol on cardiac function, developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy with a lower total lifetime dose of alcohol compared with men,” the researchers noted.
Another study published earlier this year showed that middle-aged people who drink more than moderately have a higher stroke risk.