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How does Alcohol affect the Heart?

November 02, 2020

Is there a link between drinking alcohol and heart disease?  

Yes, there is an association between long-term, heavy drinking and heart disease. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that, if alcohol is going to be consumed, it should be consumed in moderation. This means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Drinking more than this recommended amount can increase your risk of heart disease by increasing your blood pressure and weakening your heart muscle. Studies have shown that heavy drinking can increase your blood pressure by up to 10mmHg! High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes. Additionally, drinking excess alcohol can make people gain weight, which also has negative consequences for heart health. Excess drinking can weaken the heart muscle and cause dilated cardiomyopathy. In dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart becomes weak and can’t pump blood efficiently to the body, which can result in heart failure or even death.  

What is Holiday Heart Syndrome? 

Holiday Heart Syndrome occurs when excessive binge drinking causes atrial arrhythmias. This condition gets its name because people tend to consume alcohol in excess during the holidays or weekends. The most commonly seen arrhythmia with Holiday Heart Syndrome is atrial fibrillation, which is when the chambers of the heart quiver rather than contract in a coordinated manner, reducing the ability of the heart to pump blood effectively. Holiday Heart Syndrome can cause palpitations in people without underlying heart disease. If diagnosed early and treated with alcohol cessation, the prognosis for Holiday Heart Syndrome is good because it is reversible. However, if untreated, it can cause serious complications like heart failure or life-threatening arrhythmias.

Can alcohol be good for your heart?

Red wine, in moderation, is often considered “heart healthy” because it contains antioxidants called flavonoids. However, the link between red wine and heart health is not so clear. Certain populations that drink large quantities of red wine have lower rates of heart disease. However, it is possible that this can be attributed to healthier lifestyles in general (more exercise, less smoking) and not just red wine. Some studies have shown that the antioxidants found in red wine increased levels of HDL, or “good cholesterol”, and protected against cholesterol plaques in the arteries. However, other studies have found no benefit.

Overall, doctors do not recommend that you start drinking red wine because the risks of alcohol outweigh the possible benefits. Drinking too much alcohol can cause other health problems like addiction, liver disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and increased accidents. Instead, we recommend that you focus on well-established methods of reducing your risk of heart disease such as exercising, eating healthy, and not smoking.