Heart disease patients may have a reason to look forward to happy hour. A new study from researchers in Germany looked at the effects of alcohol on the heart disease patients and came up with good news for those who like their tonic with a little gin.
What the researchers wanted to know: Does alcohol harm the hearts of people who have had previous problems?
What they did: The researchers studied 225 men who had heart problems and had been treated with angioplasty and a stent (or stents) to keep their arteries from becoming blocked again. The men had heart scans six months after their treatment and were mailed a questionnaire that asked about the amount of alcohol they consumed. The researchers split the men up between those who drank less than 50 grams of alcohol a week (the equivalent of less than two shots) and those who drank between 50 and 700 grams (between two and 22 shots) of alcohol a week and looked at how their heart scans varied based on the amount of alcohol they drank.
What they found: The men who drank more alcohol had less buildup near their heart than the men who drank less than two shots a week. They were also 45 percent less likely to need another angioplasty to open up their blood vessels than the men who did not drink much alcohol. The researchers found that men who drank more per week had a higher concentration of HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol that prevents other cholesterol from blocking vessels.
What it means to you: This study shows that drinking can be good for people who have had heart problems. In the study, most of the people who responded to the questionnaire drank the equivalent of between two and 12 shots per weekfew drank the maximum of 22 in the study design. Of course, before you self-medicate, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor because alcohol consumption can increase your blood pressure and risk of other diseases.
Caveats: The researchers only looked at men. Since women's bodies metabolize alcohol differently, the study might not apply to them. In addition, while most of the men in the regular-drinkers category were moderate drinkers (less than the equivalent of 12 shots per week), a few drank more than that, and all were grouped together. So, if there is a detrimental effect to drinking a lot (as other studies have shown), it would not have been likely to show up in this study.
Find out more: The American Heart Association does not recommend using alcohol as a way of managing heart disease. Find out what it has to say: www.americanheart.org
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a slightly technical explanation of the research that has been done so far on alcohol and heart disease.
And if you want to find out just how much you've been drinking a week, Indiana University has a page that explains how different servings of alcohol compare.
Read the article: Niroomand, F. et al. "Influence of Alcohol Consumption on Restenosis Rate After Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty and Stent Implantation." Heart. October 2004, Vol. 90, No. 10, pp. 11891193.
Abstract online: http://heart.bmjjournals.com