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Heart failure doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking, apparently

Published Dec 28th, 2018 4:08PM EST
heart failure alcohol
Image: naotakem

Being diagnosed with heart failure is a serious thing, and individuals who receive such news from their doctors are likely to examine their lifestyles and, in many cases, change some of their habits. For fans of alcohol, that might mean dramatically lowering their intake or even quitting altogether.

However, a new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that regular drinkers who decide to abstain from alcohol won’t actually be improving their survival prospects. Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine found that moderate drinking even after a heart failure diagnosis doesn’t worsen the condition.

The findings are particularly interesting due to the fact that excessive drinking has been linked to heart failure in the past. In this case it seems that moderation is the key, and that drinking alcohol without overdoing it might be perfectly fine even after heart failure is diagnosed.

“My patients who are newly diagnosed with heart failure often ask me if they should stop having that glass of wine every night,” Dr. David L. Brown, senior author of the study, said in a statement. “And until now, I didn’t have a good answer for them. We have long known that the toxic effects of excessive drinking can contribute to heart failure.”

That’s good news for people who enjoy responsible drinking, but it’s not necessarily a reason for non-drinkers who are diagnosed with heart failure to take up the habit.

“People who develop heart failure at an older age and never drank shouldn’t start drinking,” Brown explains. “But our study suggests people who have had a daily drink or two before their diagnosis of heart failure can continue to do so without concern that it’s causing harm. Even so, that decision should always be made in consultation with their doctors.”

The study looked at the survival rates of nearly 6,000 individuals who had been diagnosed with heart failure and fell into various groups based on how often they partook of alcohol. Individuals who drank around 10 servings of alcohol per week (defined as 12 ounces of beer, 6 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor) seemed to benefit the most, but the researchers note that the sample size of this group is too small to state with certainty that this is the ideal amount.

In any case, moderate drinking doesn’t appear to have any negative effects for those who are already drinkers, which seems like good news for those who like to unwind with a cocktail.