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Health Blog — Take This

Happy Hour for Your Heart?

New studies link drinking to heart health — but there may be more to it

The study followed 1,221 patients ages 60 to 74 for 3 1/2 years after heart bypass surgery. The decreased risk for female coronary bypass patients who were light drinkers was far less than for men — only an 11 percent lower risk.

While one or two glasses of wine could benefit male bypass patients, "alcohol consumption is not advisable in patients with left ventricular dysfunction and heart failure," Umberto Benedetto, M.D., of the University of Rome La Sapienza said in a statement, "and caution should be used among patients at increased risk of alcohol abuse."

Healthier aging for women age 70 and older: A regular habit of two to four drinks daily begun in midlife is associated with greater health among women ages 70 and older, according to a study of nearly 14,000 nurses.

After adjusting for issues such as smoking, weight and physical activity, the study found that moderate alcohol use was associated with an 11 to 26 percent increase in surviving to 70-plus.

The odds were also better for the nurses who drank regularly, rather than those who drank infrequently or who periodically binged.

However, study author Qi Sun, M.D., at Harvard University's School of Public Health, cautioned in an e-mail that "the effects of healthy weight or physical activity are much stronger than the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption," adding, "It's tricky to recommend starting using alcohol to lifetime abstainers."

One drink daily reduces stroke risk in women: Women who had one drink a day had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who did not drink.

But women on hormone replacement therapy should beware: Drinking two alcoholic drinks a day or more was associated with a 44 percent higher risk of stroke compared with nondrinkers.

That result is not surprising, considering that hormone therapy has been shown to be a risk factor for stroke and "alcohol has been shown to increase estradiol levels (a form of estrogen) among women on hormone therapy," study author Monik Jimenez, a research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, noted in an e-mail.

The study of women ages 44 to 69 by researchers at the hospital followed more than 84,000 nurses for more than 20 years.

The results also found that light alcohol consumption in younger women produced a greater reduction in stroke risk than light consumption in older women.

Bottom line, says Jiminez, women 50 and older should stick to the American Heart Association guidelines of no more than one drink a day.

Candy Sagon writes on health issues for the Bulletin.

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