Heavy drinking leads to deadly heart attacks by causing toxic iron to build up in the body, new research suggests.
Women from regions where alcohol consumption is high have greater iron levels in their bodies and are more likely to die from heart conditions, a UK study found.
Excessive iron levels may cause ‘internal stress’ that results in plaque building up in the arteries.
Alcohol may also suppress the hormone that prevents iron from accumulating.
More than 1.6 million men and one million women in the UK live with heart disease, which is a major cause of heart attacks and failure. The condition causes one in every four deaths in the US.
Heavy drinking is generally defined as five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting for men and four for women.
The researchers, from Anglia Ruskin University, analysed 877 women with an average age of 50 who were living in sub-Saharan Africa. This region was chosen due to alcohol consumption generally being high.
The women, who were followed for around nine years, completed questionnaires on their alcohol intakes.
Iron levels were assessed by measuring ferritin in the women’s plasma samples. Ferritin stores iron and is a marker of the metal in the body.
During the study’s duration, 105 women died, of which 40 fatalities were heart related.
Their cause of deaths were determined via certificates or autopsy results. Cardiovascular-related fatalities included heart attacks, failure or strokes.
Lead author Dr Rudolph Schutte said: ‘The link between iron and mortality has been disputed for around 30 years, but this study is the first to investigate the significance of the interaction between iron loading and alcohol intake.
‘These findings may have health implications globally for people who consume large quantities of alcohol.’
The findings were published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.
This comes after research released earlier this month suggested saturated fats found in yoghurt, cheese, butter and milk do not increase the risk of heart disease,.
Eating full-fat dairy actually reduces the risk of dying from stroke by 42 percent, a study found.
Lead author Dr Marcia Otto, from the University of Texas, Houston, said: ‘Our findings not only support, but also significantly strengthen, the growing body of evidence which suggests that dairy fat, contrary to popular belief, does not increase risk of heart disease or overall mortality in older adults.
‘In addition to not contributing to death, the results suggest that one fatty acid present in dairy may lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, particularly from stroke.’
Dietary guidelines in the US and UK recommend people people opt for low or no-fat dairy, however, the researchers warn such options are often high in sugar, which can drive heart disease.
Milk, yoghurt and cheese contain nutrients such as calcium, which lowers blood pressure, as well as anti-inflammatory fatty acids.