A new study on alcohol consumption suggests that elderly women who drink a glass of wine a day have a higher risk of developing heart damage compared to men of the same age.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Massachusetts have discovered that older women were more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol even if they only engage in moderate drinking.

Elderly men, however, showed considerable reductions in heart function only when they drank an average of two glasses of alcoholic drink a day.

In their study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, the researchers conducted an experiment to find out the effects of weekly alcohol drinking on a group of 4,466 older people with an average age of 76 years old.

They monitored the condition of the participants' hearts in terms of structure, size and motion through the use of cardiac imaging.

The team found that the changes to the function and structure of the heart are influenced by the amount of alcohol consumed by an individual.

Men who drank more than 14 alcoholic beverages a week had a higher chance of developing an enlarged wall surrounding the main pumping chamber of the heart. Women, however, experienced subtle changes to their heart function despite drinking only an average of one glass a day.

Dr. Scott Solomon, director of non-invasive cardiology at BWH and one of the authors of the study, explained that consumption of alcohol among older people has been shown to thin and weaken the heart muscle.

"Women appear more susceptible than men to the cardiotoxic effects of alcohol, which might potentially contribute to a higher risk of alcoholic cardiomyopathy [disease of the heart muscle], for any given level of alcohol intake," Solomon said.

The researchers defined the term 'drink' in their study as a glass containing 14 grams of alcohol, which is the equivalent of a 125-millileter glass of wine.

According to earlier studies, light to moderate drinking of alcohol can reduce the potential of contracting cardiovascular diseases, while heavy drinking can lead to an increased risk for cardiomyopathy.

This is when the muscle of the heart increases in size and becomes thicker and more rigid. It can also replace damaged heart muscle with scar tissue.

The latest research showed that when the participants transitioned from moderate to heavy drinking, the harmful effects of alcohol increased as well.

"In spite of potential benefits of low alcohol intake, our findings highlight the possible hazards to cardiac structure and function by increased amounts of alcohol consumption in the elderly, particularly among women," lead author Alexandra Goncalves said.

"This reinforces the U.S. recommendations stating that those who drink should do so with moderation."

The American Heart Association has urged the public to drink moderately as much as possible. This means an average of only one drink a day for women and one to two drinks for men.

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