Page last updated: Friday, February 22, 2008
Drinking alcohol may keep leg arteries healthy
Moderate alcohol consumption may protect against leg artery disease in the elderly, a condition in which the arteries in the legs become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits, reducing blood flow to the legs.

Researchers found that elderly men and women who reported drinking from one to 13 servings of beer, wine, or spirits a week had a 44% lower risk of being hospitalized for leg artery disease, compared with elderly men and women who reported no alcohol consumption.

“These results are consistent with the long-standing observation that moderate drinkers have a lower risk of heart attack, which is also caused by blockages in arteries,” commented Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brookline, Massachusetts.

Over time, a build-up of plaque and a hardening of the arteries may impact circulation in the legs, ankles, and feet and cause lower-extremity artery disease. Symptoms of this condition include burning, aching, pain, and coolness in the legs, as well as changes in skin color or the development of slow or non-healing sores on the legs or feet.

Mukamal’s team identified a lower risk for hospitalization for lower extremity artery disease over 7.5 years on average among self-reported moderate alcohol drinkers. The study population included 5,635 generally healthy, community-dwelling adults who participated in the Cardiovascular Health Study.

By contrast, this apparent protective effect was not evident among study participants reporting less than one, or 14 or more, alcoholic drinks a week, the researchers report.

Moderate alcohol consumption was furthermore associated with a trend for declining arterial pressure in the lower legs, another indicator of lower risk for arterial disease.

These findings, taken together with previous research, suggest potential cardiovascular benefits from moderate alcohol consumption.

“However, alcohol also has a wide variety of other effects, especially in older adults who are apt to be taking a variety of medications,” Mukamal cautions, “so older adults should discuss their alcohol use with their doctors at least yearly.”

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