In what may prove to be badly timed news for those struggling to observe "dry January", scientists have discovered that having up to seven drinks a week may give you a better chance of avoiding heart failure than people who abstain from alcohol completely.
A study published this week in the European Heart Journal suggests that in middle-aged men, drinking up to seven small glasses of wine or about three and a half pints of beer a week was associated with a 20 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure when compared with teetotallers.
The apparent protective effects were more marginal in women, but up to seven drinks a week still gave moderate female drinkers a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart failure over their non-drinking counterparts.
The researchers also found that among both men and women consuming the most alcohol (14 or more drinks a week), the risk of heart failure was not significantly different compared to the risk for abstainers.
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The scientists, however, cautioned that other studies have shown a link between heart failure and drinking to excess, adding that "the number of very heavy drinkers in the study was small, which could have limited its power to detect an association [with heart failure]".
After tracking the fortunes of 14,629 people initially aged between 45 and 64 over a period of 24 to 25 years, the researchers adjusted their results to take into account factors such as high blood pressure, body-mass index, cholesterol levels and smoking. But they still found the reduced risks of heart failure among the moderate drinkers.
Scott Solomon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: "These findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective."
He added: "Our study shows there is an association between drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and a lower risk of heart failure but this does not necessarily mean that moderate alcohol consumption causes the lowered risk, although we did adjust our results to take account for a variety of other lifestyle factors."
The study also seemed to suggest that those who had been heavy drinkers in their youth were at greater risk of developing heart failure later in life. The researchers found that former drinkers had the highest risk of developing heart failure - a 19 per cent and 17 per cent increased risk among men and women respectively compared with abstainers.
- The Independent