New Research Finds Drinking Alcohol More Dangerous to the Heart Than Previously Thought

Heart MRI scan.

How much alcohol is safe to drink? It sounds like a simple question, but it is hard to figure out from health authorities because there is such a wide discrepancy in advice between different countries.

It can get even more confusing because they don’t agree on how much alcohol is in a standard drink. For example, in Austria, a standard drink is a whopping 20 grams of alcohol, compared to just 8 grams in Iceland. In the United States, a standard drink is considered 14 grams of alcohol, which is around the amount contained in a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits, a 12-ounce beer, or a 5-ounce glass of wine. Of course, you also have to pay attention to the specifics of your drink, because your favorite double IPA may have twice the alcohol content of a regular beer.

And even if you figure it out completely, the recommendations from your health authorities may be too high according to new research. In the study, scientists found that to minimize your risk to the heart, you should limit your consumption to less than 5 cans of 4.5% beer or less than one bottle of wine per week.

Levels of alcohol consumption currently considered safe by some countries are associated with the development of heart failure, according to new research presented at Heart Failure 2022, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).[1]

“This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed,” said study author Dr. Bethany Wong of St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland. “To minimize the risk of alcohol causing harm to the heart, if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit your weekly consumption to less than one bottle of wine or less than three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union is the heaviest-drinking region in the world.[2] While it is well recognized that long-term heavy alcohol consumption can cause a type of heart failure called alcoholic cardiomyopathy,[3] evidence from Asian populations suggests that lower amounts may also be detrimental.[4,5] “As there are genetic and environmental differences between Asian and European populations this study investigated if there was a similar relationship between alcohol and cardiac changes in Europeans at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure,” said Dr. Wong. “The mainstay of treatment for this group is management of risk factors such as alcohol, so knowledge about safe levels is crucial.”

“To minimize the risk of alcohol causing harm to the heart, if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit your weekly consumption to less than one bottle of wine or less than three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer.” — Dr. Bethany Wong

This was a secondary analysis of the STOP-HF trial.[6] The study included 744 adults over 40 years of age either at risk of developing heart failure due to risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity) or with pre-heart failure (risk factors and heart abnormalities but no symptoms).[7] The average age was 66.5 years and 53% were women. The study excluded former drinkers and heart failure patients with symptoms (e.g. shortness of breath, tiredness, reduced ability to exercise, swollen ankles). Heart function was measured with echocardiography at baseline and follow-up.

The study used the Irish definition of one standard drink (i.e. one unit), which is 10 grams of alcohol.[8] Participants were categorized according to their weekly alcohol intake: 1) none; 2) low (less than seven units; up to one 750 ml bottle of 12.5% wine or three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer); 3) moderate (7-14 units; up to two bottles of 12.5% wine or seven 500 mL cans of 4.5% beer); 4) high (above 14 units; more than two bottles of 12.5% wine or seven 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer).

The researchers analyzed the association between alcohol use and heart health over a median of 5.4 years. The results were reported separately for the at-risk and pre-heart failure groups. In the at-risk group, worsening heart health was defined as progression to pre-heart failure or to symptomatic heart failure. For the pre-heart failure group, worsening heart health was defined as deterioration in the squeezing or relaxation functions of the heart or progression to symptomatic heart failure. The analyses were adjusted for factors that can affect heart structure including age, gender, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and vascular disease.

A total of 201 (27%) patients reported no alcohol usage, while 356 (48%) were low users and 187 (25%) had moderate or high intake. Compared to the low-intake group, those with moderate or high use were younger, more likely to be male, and had a higher body mass index.

In the pre-heart failure group, compared with no alcohol use, moderate or high intake was associated with a 4.5-fold increased risk of worsening heart health. The relationship was also observed when moderate and high levels were analyzed separately. In the at-risk group, there was no association between moderate or high alcohol use with progression to pre-heart failure or to symptomatic heart failure. No protective associations were found for low alcohol intake.

Dr. Wong said: “Our study suggests that drinking more than 70 g of alcohol per week is associated with worsening pre-heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure in Europeans. We did not observe any benefits of low alcohol usage. Our results indicate that countries should advocate lower limits of safe alcohol intake in pre-heart failure patients. In Ireland, for example, those at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure are advised to restrict weekly alcohol intake to 11 units for women and 17 units for men. This limit for men is more than twice the amount we found to be safe. More research is needed in Caucasian populations to align results and reduce the mixed messages that clinicians, patients, and the public are currently getting.”

Notes

  1. The abstract ‘Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with progression of left ventricular dysfunction in a European stage B heart failure population’ will be presented during the session ‘Heart failure is a complex syndrome: look at comorbidities’ which takes place on 22 May at 09:40 CEST at Moderated ePoster 1.
  2. World Health Organization data and statistics: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/alcohol-use/data-and-statistics.
  3. Piano MR. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy: incidence, clinical characteristics, and pathophysiology. Chest. 2002;121:1638–1650.
  4. Hung CL, Goncalves A, Lai YJ, et al. Light to moderate habitual alcohol consumption is associated with subclinical ventricular and left atrial mechanical dysfunction in an asymptomatic population: dose-response and propensity analysis. J Am Soc Echocardiogr. 2016;29:1043–1051.e4.
  5. Park SK, Moon K, Ryoo JH, et al. The association between alcohol consumption and left ventricular diastolic function and geometry change in general Korean population. Eur Heart J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2018;19:271–278.
  6. STOP-HF: St Vincent’s Screening TO-Prevent Heart Failure.
  7. Bozkurt B, Coats AJS, Tsutsui H, et al. Universal definition and classification of heart failure. J Cardiac Fail. 2021;27:387–413.
  8. The definition of a standard drink varies by country. In the UK, for example, one unit contains eight grams of alcohol.

Funding: This work was performed within the Irish Clinical Academic Training (ICAT) Program (Grant Number 203930/B/16/Z). Heartbeat Trust, a registered charity (Registered in Ireland No. 375112), also funded this study.

AlcoholCardiologyEuropean Society of CardiologyHeart
Comments ( 45 )
Add Comment
  • Erik

    I call major bs on this, first of all alcohol in small quantities is not that is not risky but actually super healthy. Also it helps to chill and relax while if you stressed all the time is like 200x times more bad to you than alcohol, so no, this article is nonsense, I’ve known people, alcoholics that were drinking since 18 or less, that’s europe for you and even now at 60 70 and pushing getting that shot of vodka in a couple of times a day. If this were half true they would have died long time ago but what do I know a while ago they said eggs are unhealthy, milk you shouldn’t drink and stuff martians are invading…. the last one is a joke :))

    • Swithe

      Like Ricky Gervaise said, “the years from 80 to 90 suck” I don’t want to live at that age, and right now I enjoy eating , and drinking!

      • Lisa

        I’ve seen (with my own eyes) detrimental effects of alcohol. Its something you may not understand.
        My dad (Papa)drank to ease swollen muscles. Laboring to build roads. Then he drank to relax, then he drank to get through.
        What I learned is the cycle of alcohol.
        First it relaxes,then it takes your personality, then your family!!!
        I’ve drank but I always remember,I want my attention to be on myself and others. I want my family to not be scared.
        The impact of a drinker can be devastating to an entire community!!!

    • Kyle

      This is a study backed up by scientific data. You can’t just call BS on something because you don’t agree with. That’s not how science works.

  • Tim Markus Md

    Interesting study. Basically, it’s saying that alcohol increases your risk of heart muscle deterioration, if you have pre-existing heart abnormalities and risk factors.

  • Greg

    Ever since the new wonder god magical perfect tech that DEFINITELY is NOT experimental came out it seems like EVERYTHING EXCEPT the new wonder tech causes heart issues…..
    The new wonder tech is sooooo great that even though it listed countless heart issues from day 1, it could never do that….
    Dont drink. Dont shake your bed sheets. Avoid cold weather. Avoid hot weather. Im guessing soon we’ll learn oxygen causes myocarditis so dont breath, but im betting holding your breath prolly causes heart issues too so idk what to do…

  • Kandido

    A lesson here is that ‘ too much of everything is not good for you’

  • justsomeone

    I have an honest question, not mocking this. I went through a 1/100 situation and divorce, just trust me on that. Have 2 kids, mid 40s, social anxiety so I’ve been “alone” for better part of 6 years now. The nights without kids sometimes are excruciating, anxiety, depression, boredom. So, I drink to cope sometimes. Not every day, weekends. But a 12 pack a week is probably more the average. My question is is which one is worse on health? Anxiety, depression, etc, or the extra alcohy?

    • Mohammed A S

      Read Quran.
      Your depression will be gone

    • Jen

      Sounds like excuses, we all have plenty for anything we choose to ignore.
      I have some anxiety now I wonder If i was expose to rabies i wake up and felt the anxiety of that.
      I know what I should do and you know what you should do.
      You are overvaluing your anxiety to make excuses to drink.
      The same way you use to give alcohol the netflix entrainment status, you can also use the same mind to reduce the status you give it to dismissed completely. At the end you are sitting think or mostly fear of thinking, so for once think, what I’m fear off? think of your fear and realize is just that.

  • justsomeone

    OMG why is my picture on here?! Everyone else got a generic icon. FML

    • Loghead

      Lmao

  • PooDumped

    I wouldn’t believe the WHO for anything or any reason. That dummy with the glasses who is the chief or tribal leader was probably on a bus using a machete to kill rivals a few years back. Nope not believing any thing that comes from WHO as long as that Pygmy is running things – a Chinese agent!

  • Cheryl Healy

    Whatever. Give it a few months and it will be contradicted by another “study “

  • Cheryl Healy

    Whatever. Give it a few months and there will be another “study” that contradicts this.

  • shirley aprile

    No amount of alcohol is safe. Those who argue with that tend to be in denial.

  • Debbie

    Basically agree with posted comments. I’m 72, & not bent on living to be 100! Pretty healthy up to this point, so gonna have cocktail or two occasionally. Moderation is the key.

    • Mohammed A S

      It’s clear. Why our creator has prohibited for consuming Alcohol.
      Allah the creator of everything has sent the message through the Prophet (pbuh) to stop consuming Alcohol 1443 years ago

      Please read Quran. The only true message ftom the creator

  • Ben Younce

    I’ll tell you who just had “ HEART FAILURE “
    The Cruise Ship 🚢 Industry 😎

  • Paul P

    Life’s a b!+€}{, then you die… Everybody has their poison, some worse than others. For me, I want to live life feeling better than what life presents, especially when times are bad because you can’t control what life throws your way & alcohol helps in those times, just can’t overdo it.

  • P Anthony

    I have lived the last 40 years heavily drinking alcohol is brought a lot of health issues heartache and detrimental damage to my life! I would highly recommend anyone that doesn’t drink alcohol to not start and that does if you have to drink more than a couple of drinks a week you’re heading for trouble.
    It absolutely did damage to my heart I also had a brain bleed stroke and I still battle with alcohol but I am a recovering alcoholic! Horrible disease, that is not particular of its prisoners rather you’re rich or poor for the smartest guy in the world. To the contrary of most beliefs most of the alcoholic attics I’ve met or have super intelligent and started using as a medicine to cope with life in reality at a very young age and then cross the line as I did and there’s no return .
    Peter

  • J.S.

    Interesting that a study about consuming less alcohol (made mostly from grain/corn/agricultural sources) comes out at a time when we’re seeing news reports everywhere about grain crop shortages.

  • CinD

    Funny comment about living at age 80 to 90 sucks. I’m 75 and healthy and more creative, skilled than ever before as a musician, who gets better with age, like wine. Only drink a little twice a week.

  • BillSF

    @justsomeone I’m a divorced father of one. A little alcohol to chill is probably ok, but that’s better for relaxing stress, not depression. First, forgive yourself for not being perfect and for your marriage “failing”. No one is perfect or even “good enough” all the time which actually means being flawed and trying your best IS good enough. Make sure your kids know you love them, listen to their feelings, and don’t put down their mother in front of them even if she deserves it (this mostly hurts them, not your ex). Next, no relationship is actually a failure if you learn from it. Make a list of what you could have done better at in your marriage…try not to make those same mistakes. Make a list of what your ex could have done better at…keep those handy as warning signs in new relationships. Now make a list of what you want from a relationship and from a partner. Instead of drinking when you don’t have your kids, try going to a strip club once or twice. If you enjoy it without missing an emotional connection, you probably aren’t ready or don’t want a relationship yet. Focus on hanging out with buddies instead to rebuild your sense of self. If you know you want to “sleep around” for a while, just be honest with the women that you’re still recovering from a bad marriage and looking for passion not love. If you KNOW that you want a partner and a close relationship, DON’T sleep around. If you’re honorable at all, once sex is involved, you’ll feel more obligated to stay with someone you care about, but know isn’t quite right for you. Doing this is a great way to trap yourself in another bad relationship. Use your list of what you want to try to objectively judge your connection. If the person doesn’t check most of the boxes after several good dates, you can more easily break it off or downgrade to friendship with her feeling used. If your new partner DOES check the boxes, still take it slow for a bit longer, but now for the fun of building up that passion and anticipation together.

  • AJ

    43 years old and have been drinking heavily the past few years. As of 5 months ago, I haven’t had one drink. And as this study indicates, alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy, as I was diagnosed with it a couple of months ago. Now I’m on several medications and working to improve my overall health. With that and my faith, I pray that in a few months when I get another echo and mri, my ejection fraction has increased. Moral of the story, alcohol is poison and has no place in the human body.

  • Miranda Ceballos

    I’ve been sober from alcohol for 13 years now I feel really good

  • Ruben

    My husband has drank for over 40 years and not just one can he drinks till he can’t and he his healthier than I . I never have drank and I am sick of my heart. So hard to believe your story

  • Ellen DeGeneres

    Alcohol is bad in the long run.
    Don’t let cops, lawyers, cities etc. make money off you with drunk driving arrests
    It’s A slow long detrimental addiction for too many

  • James Adam Carrington

    I, too, call TOTAL B.S. on this article AND this study! I enjoy several glasses of wine every day and I’m not about to stop, number one, number two, most of my family are what some would call “heavy drinkers,” and we ALL live to a ripe old age. Even if I DON’T, I’m going to enjoy my life while I’m on this planet, because our time here is fleeting, and I’m going to drink and relax with friends and family until I drop dead, so…to Hell with these new age temperance alarmists…here’s to you!

  • Steven Sarasky

    I’m 63 I’m a heavy beer drinker Imported only and And Enjoy Jameson Have a physical every 6 months my Doctor is on the Ball God Bless Her She takes Veterans Health insurance!! Blood work is Normal. Weight Normal. If You drink Eat heavy!

  • R someone Special

    I am an alcoholic I am 48 years old I have congestive heart failure I am in poor health I still drink but not heavy I come from a long family of alcoholics everything in this world is going to kill you eventually we’re all going to die so whether or not we enjoy a few drinks so be it. I have now probably a beer or two a day after I get off work my point is if you enjoy it then do it I wouldn’t listen to anything that the who says because they’re a crock of s*** anyway

  • Brad

    It does effect the heart in some way. I drank the day before yesterday, pretty heavy if I might add I had quit drinking for a good sixty days. And that’s how it would start, I’d get off work and just get a few. No big deal. After a few days of it. My anxiety and heart is always thumping out of my chest and I have no appetite. I’ll just stop and smoke my weeds. To hell with alcohol.

  • Jim Rumbaugh

    Some folks never learn. They NEED to drink. They don’t drink to feel good but to stop feeling BAD …for whatever reason. You can’t talk those folks out of it.
    And of course every drinker/ smoker I ever knew knows someone who drinks and/or smokes more and lived to be 80+. Long and large cohort studies be damned.. “Uncle Fred did 2/3 packs a day along with a 1/2 pint of whiskey washed with 2 pints of beer and lived until he was 90 and I’m in that 2% too.”
    Free country just don’t drive near me and pay for your own private health insurance please.

  • Sandra

    Nope I disagree why just had a ..one those test for sonic a embryos.atv6 week 8 week .but my heart pumping way it suppose to do..
    I believe that weight like over weight your height. I drink a six pack..lol I weight 106. 5.5..and have heart examed

  • Duh

    Alcohol is poison, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s bad for you

  • Roseann Johnson

    We are all born naked wet and hungry and then things get worse, so enjoy life! We all know our limits…we are all grown and we should all act accordingly. Just saying….be responsible… And use common sense!

  • Dr. M

    Justsomeone: First of all, I am sorry with what you are going through. The answer to your question would be the extra alcohol. (I’m in a bit of a unique position where in two years I will double boarded in addictionology and psychiatry, so I understand the effects of both alcohol as well as anxiety depression on the body.) I am a current US trained physician who uses the DSM5 and my answers are with this in mind.

    In short, per the DSM5, anyone with a substance use disorder can’t be diagnosed with most other psychiatric disorders as the substance can mimic the symptoms of another illness making it hard to differentiate between the two. Alcohol, for example, can exacerbate depression and anxiety while you are intoxicated. These effects can also last for several days after the intoxication resolves. In your case, where there is likely an underlying depression and anxiety, the alcohol is likely making things worse, in addition to the other harmful effects that binge drinking can have on your body. (Not going to get into them here – internet should have all that info). I would recommend speaking to a psychiatrist and asking about medication options that might be a good fit for you for the depression (as you are self medicating already with alcohol) and speaking to a counselor about starting therapy. From my experience, I find a combination of meds and counseling to be more effective than either one alone. However, between the three (alcohol, depression, anxiety), alcohol will be the worse because that has the potential to exacerbate the other two and allow them to increase whatever damage they would normally cause – in addition to the damage alcohol would cause by itself.

    Here are some specific definitions to see if you fall into the concerning category of drinking (there are different ones based on different organizations). Listing them for females as well if anyone is interested.

    Binge Drinking:
    NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.
    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.

    Heavy Alcohol Use:

    NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows:
    For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week

    For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week

    SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.

  • Diane

    Yes, interesting study, at least someone is doing a study on the affect of alcohol to the body. More are needed! Keep up the great work! I have desired alcohol since the first time my mother allowed me a sip of her sweet cold icy wine cooler probably age 10. I never desired to become a drinker because I grew up around men that were called drunkerds and as a girl who would want to aspire to be a functional go to work never miss a day alcoholic/drunk! A majority of them lived into their 80’s, some died 50’s alcohol related heart/strokes! My point is, the United States government has given society the choice to abuse or not to abuse! I am now 55. 6 weeks ago had an excellent ekg, blood work all good, and have all my arteries ultrasound every year-excellent , and I drink in moderation, I could have easily been a predisposed excuse for being a drunk but if I can make the right choice anyone can! The study is about facts! The fact is Alcohol is just one more thing that will kill you! Period point blank… This one you can control!

  • April

    Drink if u want to drink have fun live ur life . I’m a different kind of person I’m not judging you but I can tell u how u made me feel and did me wrong and what I think of u for doing it. U have said many times u have no regrets so I don’t even care to talk or read this stuff anymore

  • William

    If you live where it legal go green

  • Vu Tran

    Tell that to the 113 year old man who says to drink everyday 🤣

  • Franklin Russell

    My spouse if 27 years passed away from MVP heart failure. Its a horrible way to die. For over a decade she complained of not being able to breath low energy. MVP caused her legs to swell from registration. She couldn’t lie flat on her back because she would drown. She always quoted Dr. Oz drink wine it’s good for you. BS! Don’t drink. Don’t vote for Oz.

  • Mehrdad

    Whatever anyone says you just print
    It looks like you’re just filling some blank spots in news letter
    One day it’s good
    Other day it brings some brain failure
    Next day it’s helping a 100 year old woman in France live up to date
    Other day it’s the cause of heart failure
    What’s wrong with you people.
    Make up your mind and take side
    Don’t print anything, at least until you’re sure about it.

    It’s not free speech, it’s bringing chaos to mind of readers.

  • Tayeb

    That’s why alcohol is forbidden in islam

  • g_70_inf_35

    At 51 yrs I can’t tell you the countless times that I’ve heard of the legendary grandma who smoked unfiltered camels and drank scotches from 10 years of age and died at 95 whenever scientific studies come out on the topic.

    What I’m hearing through all that noise is: “Science be damned, I’m gonna keep on doing me when it comes to alcohol”. Never mind that spirits are poison that our bodies and digest, that blocks key vitamin absorption for cellular function. I read a cancer study that that traced back a number of cancers to the alcohol consumption. I quit a year ago and I’m not looking back.
    But, continue doing you and keep enjoying those bottles as if they’re your last!