‘Moderate’ drinking might harm your heart if you’re a senior citizen, a new study suggests. And women appear to be at greater risk for alcohol-related heart damage than men, the researchers found. “In an elderly population, increasing alcohol intake is associated with subtle alterations in heart structure and function, with women appearing more susceptible than men to the toxic effects of alcohol,” said lead researcher Dr. Alexandra Goncalves. She is a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The study involved more than 4,400 adults, average age 76. The investigators found that women who drank even moderately one drink daily experienced a small reduction in heart function. Among men, consuming more than 14 drinks a week considered heavy drinking was linked to enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle wall, the researchers said. However, the association seen in the study does not prove a cause-and-effect link.

And one heart expert questioned the findings, given that other research has touted the benefits of some alcohol consumption for adults. “While heavy consumption of alcohol can result in heart disease and heart failure, a number of studies have suggested that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes compared to non-drinkers,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The findings of this new study linking moderate alcohol consumption to structural changes in the heart contradict the results of other research, he said. “Thus, any clinical significance of these findings is unclear at the present time,” said Fonarow, who was not involved in the study. The American Heart Association recommends that those who drink alcohol do so in moderation. This means an average of one to two drinks a day for men and one drink daily for women. The association cautions against starting to drink alcohol for potential heart benefits.

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