Alcohol’s Effects on the Heart

Several years ago, doctors began to suggest that a glass of red wine in the evening can benefit your heart. This came as good news to people who like to have a glass of wine with dinner. The problem, unsurprisingly, is some people didn’t pay close enough attention, and they didn’t stop with just one glass. For people who have a disposition toward alcoholism, this became very dangerous.  So how does alcohol affect the heart?

When Alcohol Is Good for the Heart

How does alcohol affect the heart in a positive way? Some research indicates that moderate drinking may protect some people from heart disease. Moderate drinking is described as one 12 ounce beer, one 12 ounce wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Such moderate drinking may provide benefits such as raising good cholesterol, preventing damage from bad cholesterol and inhibiting blood clotting. Inhibited clotting may hold off heart attacks, but it may also make the person bleed easily.

There is some serious doubt, however, regarding whether the health benefits actually come from the wine or from associated healthy lifestyle choices. In other words, if you don’t drink already, don’t start now for the sake of the possible health benefits. A healthy diet and exercise will provide the same health benefits.

Unhealthy Drinking

Heavy drinking can damage your heart muscle and may raise your blood pressure. Over the long run, high blood pressure increases strain on the heart muscle and can cause damage to the heart.

High blood pressure is also a contributing factor to heart attacks and strokes. Drinking more than 4 drinks within 2 hours is described as binge drinking and can cause irregular heart rhythms. Heavy drinking can also increase your calorie intake, leading to weight gain, which increases strain on your heart muscle and is a contributing factor to diabetes.

Heavy drinking also weakens the heart muscle, making it more difficult for the heart to pump the blood sufficiently and the heart may become enlarged. A disorder known as Holiday Heart Syndrome is caused by an irregular heart rhythm, which causes changes in blood pressure and can lead to a heart attack or even sudden death. The person has pain in the center of the chest, is breathless and feels like they are having a heart attack. It is called Holiday Heart Syndrome because many people drink more during the holidays and therefore suffer these symptoms.

People with certain health problems should not drink alcoholic beverages:

  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • History of stroke
  • History of triglycerides

Since some medications don’t mix well with alcohol, be sure to check the warnings on your medications or check with your pharmacist. Most alcoholic beverages now contain a warning that pregnant women and people with a history of alcoholism should not use alcohol either.

In general, heavy alcohol use, as well as binge drinking, leads to increased blood pressure, weakens the heart muscle, and can cause the heart to beat abnormally. This damage to the heart may lead to heart attack or stroke, and it damages the heart’s ability to pump blood into the rest of the body.

So How Does Alcohol Affect The Heart: Good or Bad?

The evidence that low or moderate drinking might be healthy or unhealthy remains a matter of debate. Red wine and beer contain antioxidants which are beneficial to the heart and may help prevent heart attack or stroke, but eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise will provide far better benefits without the dangers of drinking alcohol. For people with certain diseases or who are taking certain medications, it’s never a good idea to drink. At the other end of the spectrum, heavy drinking and binge drinking raise blood pressure and damage the heart, increasing the risk of serious alcohol-related problems, such as heart attack or stroke.

 


Additional References: WEBMD, Heart.orgDrinkaware, BHF

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