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Why Alcohol May Help Hearts

Alcohol May Act as a Blood Thinner, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 13, 2005 -- Alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease by acting as a blood thinner, a new study shows.

But the news isn't totally rosy. Blood thinning could raise the risk of bleeding-type strokes, the researchers note.

So should you drink or not? The study doesn't issue a verdict. It focused on the science of how moderate drinking may affect the heart.

"The findings" should not be used by people as any reason to begin drinking," researcher Kenneth Mukamal, MD, MPH, MA, says in a news release.

Mukamal works at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. His study appears in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Sticky Situation

The researchers concentrated on blood platelets. Those are small cell fragments in your blood. They're made in the bone marrow, and their job is to help blood clot.

That's a great thing when you have a skin cut. But you don't want a blood clot in an artery because that could block blood flow and cause a heart attack.

Platelets aren't lone rangers. They cluster together to do their work. Platelet "stickiness" and activation were topics for Mukamal's team.

Alcohol Study

Mukamal's study included about 3,000 adults who didn't have heart disease. They were the children of participants from the Framingham Heart Study.

Participants gave blood samples in 1991 and 1994 as part of the Framingham Offspring Study, which began in the early 1970s. They were also surveyed about their drinking habits, smoking status, physical activity, and other health problems (such as high blood pressure and diabetes).

Participants were asked how often and how much they drank of wine, beer, and liquor. Beer was the most common drink for men; wine was women's most common drink.

Study's Findings

"We found that among both men and women, an intake of three to six drinks per week or more was linked to lower levels of stickiness by aggregability," says Mukamal in the news release.

"Aggregability" means the ability to cluster together. It measures platelet stickiness.

"Among the men, we also found that alcohol intake was linked to lower levels of platelet activation," Mukamal continues.

"Together, these findings ... identify moderate drinking as a potential blood thinner," he says.

The type of alcohol didn't appear to change the results. The study didn't specify whether wine was red or white.

Possible Impact

Moderate drinkers have been shown to have lower rates of heart attacks than nondrinkers, the researchers note.

But "at the same time, moderate drinking has been linked to a higher risk of hemorrhagic [bleeding] stroke, even [after] accounting for its effects on blood pressure," they write.

"Our findings add to a large body of evidence showing that moderate drinking has effects on blood coagulation, which may have both good and bad effects, but now identify a new avenue by which this effect may occur," says Mukamal.

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