Actor Nelsan Ellis, who was well-known for his starring role on HBO’s “True Blood,” died Saturday at age 39 from heart failure, which his family claims was a result of his withdrawal from alcohol.
Ellis' family released a statement to The Hollywood Reporther through the actor's manager revealing his struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. His father said that after "many stints" in rehab, Ellis had attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own, which led to a blood infection. According to their statement, Ellis' liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted and his heart raced out of control.
The family said he was hospitalized for four days before his death.
The devastating effects of heavy alcohol use on cardiovascular health are well-documented. In February, University of College London researchers conducted a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association that found heavy drinking is linked to worse heart health in both the short and long term.
“Arterial stiffness is an important indicator of cardiovascular aging and is known to be strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and related mortality,” lead author Darragh O’Neill of University College London said, according to Reuters.
O’Neill added that stiff-walled arteries are strongly related to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, as well as other harmful illnesses. To reach these conclusions, researchers studied 4,000 British government employees who were originally recruited between 1985 and 1988.
The study participants were asked to report their drinking habits every four to five years, with researchers measuring for arterial stiffness starting between 2007 and 2009. The study found higher rates of heavy drinking among the male participants compared to female, as well as higher rates of stiffer arteries.
Additionally, those who drank heavily more consistently had higher initial measures of arterial stiffness than those who drank moderately, Reuters reported. Those who were once heavy drinkers showed greater increase in arterial stiffness compared with consistently moderate drinkers.
Researchers also noted that the men who were heavy drinkers were the only group to experience a significantly accelerated change in arterial stiffness.
“The most important implication is that long-term consistently-heavy drinking can lead to increased risk of stiffened arteries, particularly amongst males, but also that male former drinkers are at risk of accelerated rates of arterial stiffness compared to moderate drinkers in early old age,” O’Neill told Reuters.
And while some may consider heart health a key motivator in giving up alcohol, the American Addiction Centers warns against cutting it of “cold turkey” without a medical supervisor present.
“Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, as the brain and central nervous system experience a rebound after being suppressed by alcohol respectively for an extended period of time,” according to the organization. “Sudden removal of the central nervous system depressant can be life-threatening.”
Reuters contributed to this report.