How does alcohol impact your heart?

Posted on February 20, 2018 by kerri

February is Heart Month. While most of us are aware of the problems alcohol can cause to a variety of organs, we often think about the liver being damaged by overconsumption of alcohol. However, your heart can also be impacted by imbibing in too many alcoholic beverages.

Image credit to Nick Frey (nicksan) via Wikipedia.

How alcohol impacts your heart

Moderation is key. Research has indicated that “moderate drinking” can protect some people against heart disease. [1] The key here is some people, as well as moderate drinking. Moderate drinking is 1 drink a day for women, and 2 drinks a day for men [1]—and of course, research has measured those drinks out for you: it’s 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 1.5 ounces of “hard liquor” (80-proof), and just 5 ounces of wine [1]—so get measuring your wine glasses! As well, some research indicates that this may only help if you are over age 45. [2]

Alcohol may raise HDL—”good cholesterol”, and prevent damage called by LDL (“bad cholesterol”), prevent heart attacks by decreasing blood clotting. [1] DrinkAware UK states that you should not start drinking simply for the protective effects, [2] and WebMD.com also notes that these effects can also be borne of good lifestyle choices. [1]

The problem is when it comes to long term heavy drinking—more than what is outlined above. Drinking too much increases risk of developing high blood pressure, and weakens the heart—called cardiomyopathy—meaning it cannot pump as effectively. [2] Sudden cardiac death may also be a consequence of drinking too much alcohol. [3]

Other health risks of alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to a host of medical conditions, many of which may in themselves or due to their treatments, increase risk of heart disease. These health risks include hypertension, obesity, cancer (specifically breast cancer), and suicide. [3] As well, since alcohol consumption often leads to excess calorie consumption, either by way of alcohol itself or in staving off ill-effects of alcohol or hangovers, excess alcohol consumption may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. [3] Of course, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and alcohol-mediated accidents are also great risks of drinking alcohol that may affect not just your wellbeing, but that of others. [3]

Keep drinking in moderation

If you drink, do it in moderation—if drinking too much is a problem for you, Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups can be a great place to start getting a handle on your drinking, without judgement: everyone else has been there.

Drinking safely with medical conditions

If you have had a heart attack, it is likely your doctor has advised you not to drink. Often, people who have had a stroke or heart attack, or who have type 2 diabetes, may be advised not to drink by their healthcare team. [3]  If you choose to drink with certain medical conditions—including the above as well as type 1 diabetes, asthma, and others—advise your doctor so that they can give you advice to keep your condition under control when drinking. Wear a medical ID bracelet in the event a sudden or severe reaction occurs while you are under the influence of alcohol, and tell those you are drinking with about your health condition.

When it comes to your heart, keep alcohol consumption in moderation—it may help, but as above, don’t start drinking just to protect your heart—you can stay healthy in potentially healthier ways.

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