Moderate alcohol consumption cuts rate of further narrowing after heart surgery

New German research from Heidelberg University suggests that moderate drinking cuts the rate of further narrowing after surgery to open blocked arteries. The findings are published in the current issue of Heart.

The research is based on 225 men who underwent a procedure to open up their blocked arteries, known as balloon angioplasty or PTCA. The procedure, which is less traumatic than bypass surgery, involves the insertion of a stent (small tube) into the artery. But this can sometimes cause inflammation in response to the 'injury', so risking further arterial narrowing. It usually occurs within four months, if it is going to happen.

The men were surveyed to find out how much alcohol they drank every week during the first four months after their angioplasty.

Fifty three patients with 80 stents between them drank less than 50g of alcohol a week. And 172 with 266 stents between them drank more than 50g of alcohol a week; 21 patients consumed between 350g and 700g a week. One unit of alcohol equals 10 ml or 8 g in weight.

The two groups were very similar, except that those who drank no or little alcohol had more blocked arteries, poorer heart function, and a less favourable cholesterol ratio than those who drank more than 50 g a week before their surgery.

The results showed that patients with diabetes were significantly more likely to require a repeat angioplasty. But so too were those who drank less than 50 g of alcohol a week.

Patients who drank more than 50g a week of alcohol were less likely to experience renewed narrowing in the stented artery (restenosis)-34% compared with 49%- and they were almost half as likely to require repeat angioplasty - 23% compared with 42%.

The authors emphasise that their findings do not mean that non-drinkers should suddenly start drinking alcohol, even if they have cardiovascular disease. But they say that their research "further supports that moderate consumers of alcohol with an increased risk cardiovascular risk profile should not be advised to stop drinking."

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