March 28, 2012 -- A daily alcoholic beverage or two may be good for men who have survived a heart attack, according to new research published in the European Heart Journal.
The study, carried out by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found that men who consumed two alcoholic drinks per day after their first heart attack were at lower risk of dying than non-drinking men. The type of drink did not have an effect on the results, but heavy drinkers had a risk of death that was similar to that of non-drinkers.
Researchers followed more than 1,800 men who survived a heart attack. The study participants filled out lifestyle questionnaires, and researchers found that men who drank about two alcoholic drinks per day had a 42 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular problems and a 12 percent reduced risk of dying from any cause, when compared with teetotalers.
"For many men after experiencing a heart attack, major diet and lifestyle changes are recommended by their physicians," said Dr. Jennifer Pai, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "Our study indicates that for men already consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, continuing to consume moderate amounts after a heart attack may be beneficial for long-term survival."
Pai noted that moderate alcohol consumption has long been associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease among healthy populations.
"More recently, some studies have suggested a beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption on reduced mortality among individuals with established heart disease, but the results were somewhat conflicting," continued Pai. "Our study is the first to examine moderate alcohol consumption both before the men experienced their heart attack, and also after they survived the event."
But because the data was based on self-reports, which can lead to measurement errors, Dr. Robert Bonow, professor of medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said the findings should be taken with caution. It is unclear whether women would have similar results, and the findings certainly should not encourage non-drinkers to suddenly start drinking after a heart attack, he said.
"This certainly isn't an elixir after a heart attack," said Bonow. "There are much more important lifestyle factors that should be taken into account before moderate alcohol, like making sure patients are not smoking, they're getting cardiac rehabilitation and taking their medications."