How Alcohol Affects Your Heart
It seems like there’s always a news article talking about a study showing that moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of heart attack. (“Moderate” drinking is defined as one to two drinks per day for a man and one drink per day for a woman. People over 65 should drink even less.)
It’s true that some studies have shown that alcohol seems to help in raising HDL, or “good” cholesterol. It also decreases the risk of blood clot formation, and blood clots are a leading cause of heart attack. But the American Heart Association does not recommend that people take up drinking simply to decrease their risk of heart problems.
Why not drink alcohol?
There are good reasons to avoid alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption can raise triglyceride levels in some people. Triglycerides, fatty compounds in the blood, can lead to the development of heart disease. Additionally, drinking alcohol can increase the risk of arrhythmias and enlargement of the heart.
Alcoholism is a big problem in this country. One out of nine Americans is an alcoholic. This level of alcohol abuse contributes to the development of
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Problems with the pancreas and stomach
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Cancer of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, liver and esophagus
It seems risky to encourage people to drink alcohol when we all know that becoming an alcoholic is dangerous business.
Alcohol also has calories. Maintaining a reasonable weight is important for people with heart disease. Drinking excessive amounts of
- Beer (100 calories per can)
- Wine (usually 80 to 95 calories for a four-ounce class)
- Hard liquor (averaging about 75 calories for one ounce)
can make it difficult to control your weight.
Finally, drinking alcohol can have negative effects on blood pressure. Just two alcoholic drinks per day can raise blood pressure, and alcohol can prevent blood pressure medications from working effectively.
Becoming an alcohol drinker puts anyone at higher risk of alcoholism or serious disease. There are other, non-risky ways to get the heart-protective benefits that alcohol may provide. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and stress reduction practices are a better idea.
Talk with your doctor
If you don’t already drink regularly, taking up the practice is probably not something your doctor would recommend. If you do drink regularly, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of drinking.
The American Heart Association; M. McGowan. Heart Fitness for Life. Oxford University Press, New York, New York, 10016, 1997; F. Pashkow and C. Libov. The Women’s Heart Book. Hyperion, New York, New York, 10023-6298, 2001.