Half a pint of beer a day may help to keep heart failure away, research has shown.
It may sound like part of Pub Landlord comedian Al Murray’s election campaign, but scientists found that consuming seven alcoholic drinks over the course of a week reduced the risk of heart failure by a fifth in men and 16% in women.
A drink was defined as one containing 14 grams of alcohol, equivalent to just over half a pint of beer, a small glass of wine, or less than one shot of whisky or vodka.
Heart failure, which affects around 900,000 people in the UK, occurs when the heart is too weak to pump blood around the body efficiently.
It most often happens after a heart attack but can also have other causes such as inherited disease, irregular heart beat, a defective heart valve and viral infections.
For the new study researchers looked at 14,629 Americans aged 45 to 64 who were divided into abstainers, former drinkers and those who consumed up to seven, seven to 14, 14 to 21 or 21 or more drinks a week.
Over a period of 25 years, 1,271 men and 1,237 women developed heart failure. The condition was least likely to be seen in participants having up to seven alcoholic drinks a week and most likely to occur in former drinkers.
After taking into account factors such as age, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, physical activity and smoking, the scientists found that men in the “up to seven” drinks group had a 20% lower risk of developing heart failure than abstainers.
For women consuming the same amount, the risk was reduced by 16%.
US lead researcher Professor Scott Solomon, from 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. No level of alcohol intake was associated with a higher risk of heart failure. However, heavy alcohol use is certainly a risk factor for deaths from any cause.
“The people who were classified as former drinkers at the start of the study had a higher risk of developing heart failure and of death from any cause when compared with abstainers. This could be related to the reasons why they had stopped drinking in the first place, for instance because they had already developed health problems that might have made them more likely to go on to develop heart failure.”
In both men and women, consuming 14 or more alcoholic drinks a week did not raise the risk of heart failure any higher than it was for abstainers.
But for those consuming 21 or more drinks, the number of deaths from any cause increased by 47% for men and 89% for women.
Overall, 42% of participants were abstainers while a quarter reported an intake of up to seven drinks a week, 8% seven to 14 drinks, and 3% 14 or more.
The findings are published in the European Heart Journal.
Prof Solomon added: “It is important to bear in mind that 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, as far as possible, for a variety of other lifestyle factors that could affect a person’s risk.”
Commenting on the results, Professor David Leon, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “While this study may be of interest to scientists studying how alcohol affects the heart, overall it is consistent with the emerging consensus that any level of drinking carries risks, and that the more you drink the higher the probability of dying prematurely from something.
“The findings of this study would be misunderstood if for health reasons they encouraged non-drinkers to take up drinking, or for occasional drinkers to drink more regularly.”
Al Murray, aka The Pub Landlord, has pledged to stand against Ukip leader Nigel Farage in the next general election, contesting the Kent constituency of South Thanet under the banner of the Free United Kingdom Party (Fukp).