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Two to Three Drinks a Day May Benefit Heart-Bypass Patients

Two or three alcoholic drinks a day may prevent people, especially men, from having heart attacks or strokes after going through heart-bypass surgery, Italian researchers said.

Compared with nondrinkers, men who consumed light to moderate amounts of alcohol were 25 percent less likely after bypass operations to have cardiovascular events or need further procedures, the scientists said today in Chicago at the American Heart Association’s meeting. The conclusion was based on data for 1,221 patients tracked for a median time of 3.5 years. The figure for women wasn’t available.

The drinking may increase HDL cholesterol while lowering inflammation and blood pressure, and help blood vessels function in the wake of surgery, said Umberto Benedetto, a researcher for the study and a doctor in the cardiac-surgery department at the University of Rome La Sapienza.

“Our results should be considered for a correct lifestyle following such an operation,” Benedetto said in an e-mail. “We recommend that moderate alcohol consumption should not be discouraged in patients,” particularly when hearts are functioning normally, he said.

More studies are needed, with more patients, to confirm the findings, Benedetto said.

Cardiac bypass is the most common open-heart procedure, occurring about 500,000 times a year in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Counting Events

For the study, the Italian scientists used a questionnaire to determine how much alcohol the heart-bypass patients consumed. The study counted bypass procedures, heart attacks, strokes and deaths.

Light to moderate drinking was considered 5 grams to 30 grams (1.06 ounces) of alcohol a day, or about two to three drinks. Moderate to heavy alcohol use was more than 60 grams a day, or more than six drinks.

Moderate to heavy drinking by bypass patients with a defect called left ventricular dysfunction was associated with twice the risk of dying compared with nondrinkers, the Italian researchers found. The condition occurs where there’s a loss of normal pumping function on the left side of the heart.

Separately, a study with 13,961 participants, by researchers in Boston at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, found that women who consume two to four drinks daily in mid-life may have better health at age 70 or older if they live that long.

Light to moderate drinking was associated with an 11 percent to 26 percent increase in survival to 70 or beyond with good health, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the researchers said at the Chicago meeting. Heading of the list of authors for the research was Qi Sun, a research association in the department of nutrition at Harvard.

Stroke Risk

A third study, also from the two Boston institutions, found that women who had one drink a day had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke compared with nondrinkers. Monik Jimenez, a research fellow in medicine at Brigham & Women’s, led the list of authors for the study presented at the heart meeting.

The American Heart Association doesn’t recommend that people start drinking alcohol to prevent heart disease, partly because overdrinking can raise blood pressure, the group said on its website.

The daily limit should be one drink for women and two for men, the Dallas-based heart association said.

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