Harvard Men's Health Watch

Alcohol after a heart attack

Q. My husband was just released from the hospital after a mild heart attack. He's never been much of a drinker, but now he wants to have wine with dinner every night. We've both heard that wine is good for the heart, but I'm worried that it may not be safe so soon after a heart attack. I hope you can either reassure me or restrain my husband.

A. Many, many medical studies have linked alcohol to a reduced risk of heart attacks, particularly in men over 60 and others at heightened risk. Although red wine gets most of the praise, white wine, beer, and liquor have similar effects, probably because all boost levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol to a similar degree. But if the type of alcohol doesn't seem to matter, the amount does, since heavy drinking takes a toll on the heart and circulation, along with the liver and other organs. For men, the best "dose" is one to two drinks a day, counting 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of liquor as one drink. And in case you're interested in joining your husband, women are best advised to limit themselves to one drink a day.

But even if alcohol is good for a healthy heart, that doesn't mean it's safe or beneficial after a heart attack. Few doctors "prescribe" alcohol after heart attacks, but few prohibit moderate drinking unless they have special cause for concern. Still, it would help to have scientific evidence about how alcohol affects heart attack survivors. Leave it to French doctors to gather that evidence.

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