Harvard Heart Letter

Moderate drinking may harm older people's hearts

A drink or two a day has long been touted as beneficial for the heart. But new research suggests that for older people, even moderate drinking may cause worrisome changes in the heart's structure and function. Moderate drinking is defined as a drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men.

The study included nearly 4,500 adults with an average age of 76 years. They drank varying amounts of alcohol, ranging from none to 14 or more drinks per week. Researchers looked at the size, structure, and function of different parts of their hearts using cardiac imaging techniques.

Among men, heavy drinking (more than 14 drinks per week) was linked to thickening of the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber. Among women, just one drink per day led to small reductions in heart function. Women appear to be more susceptible to alcohol's toxic effects, which may leave them more vulnerable to a problem with the heart muscle, known as cardiomyopathy, according to the authors. Their study appears in the June 2015 issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »