A large study of nearly 15,000 men and women has found that having up to seven drinks a week is associated with a 20 percent lower risk of men developing heart failure and 16 percent reduced risk for women.
“The findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective,” said Scott Solomon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The team defined a drink equivalent to approximately one small (125ml) glass of wine, just over half a pint or a third of a litre of beer and less than one shot of liquor such as whisky or vodka.
The participants were divided into six categories: abstainers, former drinkers, people who drank up to seven drinks a week or between 7-14 drinks, 14-21 drinks or 21 or more drinks a week.
During the follow-up period, 1,271 men and 1,237 women developed heart failure.
The lowest rate of heart failures occurred in those drinking up to seven drinks per week and the highest rate was seen among former drinkers.
Men who consumed up to seven drinks a week had a 20 percent reduced risk of developing heart failure compared to abstainers, while the risk was reduced by 16 percent in women consuming the same amount, the study found.
However, when the researchers looked at death from any cause, there was an increased risk of death of 47 percent for men and 89 percent of women who reported consuming 21 or more drinks a week at the start of the study.
The protective effect of moderate drinking were more marginal in women than in men and the authors think this may be due to the fact that women metabolise alcohol in a different way to men and it can affect them differently.
“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,” Solomon pointed out.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period of time is known to increase the risk of cardiomyopathy.
Heart failure is a major public health problem with over 23 million people living with it worldwide.
The report appeared in the European Heart Journal.