Having two or more drinks daily may damage the heart of elderly people, a study has warned.
Among men, drinking more than 14 alcoholic beverages weekly (heavy drinking) is linked with enlargement of the wall of the heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricular mass).
"Women appear more susceptible than men to the cardiotoxic effects of alcohol which might potentially contribute to a higher risk of cardiomyopathy, for any given level of alcohol intake," said Scott Solomon, professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School.
In cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes larger, thicker, more rigid or is replaced by scar tissue.
The study correlated weekly alcohol consumption among 4,466 people (average age 76) to the size, structure and motion of various parts of the heart.
The more people drank, the greater the subtle changes to the heart’s structure and function.
Moderate drinking is generally defined as two drinks a day (beer, wine or liquor) for men and one drink a day for women.
"In spite of potential benefits of low alcohol intake, our findings highlight the possible hazards to cardiac function by increased amounts of alcohol consumption in the elderly, particularly among women," added Alexandra Goncalves, post-doctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The American Heart Association guidelines and 2010 US dietary guidelines recommend limiting alcohol intake to up to one drink a day for women and up to two for men.
Previous research has shown that light to moderate drinking may protect against some cardiovascular disease, while heavy drinking has been linked with a higher risk for cardiomyopathy.
"This reinforces the US recommendations stating that those who drink should do so with moderation," Goncalves said.
The research appeared in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.