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 it 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.

"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 upto one drink a day for women and upto two for men. The research appeared in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.


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