The Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
Every day you hear something new about what you should and shouldn’t be putting into your body. One day it is ‘fats are good for you!’ and the next it is ‘fats are evil!’ It is a never-ending stream of food-trend confusion. Despite the changes in diet fads that come and go, there are some things that will always stay the same. For example, the effects of alcohol. Alcohol is commonly known to harm the liver over time if consumed in excess; some studies have also showed that drinking alcohol can affect the brain in the long-term as well. But what about the heart? Does alcohol have any longstanding or serious harm? Here is what you need to know about the effects of alcohol on the heart:
How Alcohol Works
When you put that sip of beer, spirits, wine, or cider on your tongue, it is interesting to think that the alcohol in the drink will eventually reach your entire body. Every single organ is going to come into contact with that alcohol, and as a result your body will react to it. As soon as you swallow, 20% of the alcohol will become absorbed into the stomach, and the remaining 80% is absorbed into the small intestine. Eventually, once the alcohol has entered the organs, it will pass through and be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Of course, our blood journeys throughout our entire body. Once the alcohol has entered the bloodstream it will continue to travel to the rest of the body, organs and all (kidneys, lungs, skin, brain, heart)! In time the liver filters out the concentration of alcohol – it takes about one hour to breakdown every ounce of alcohol.
Remember, alcohol affects everyone differently. Two drinks had by a young woman compared to that of an obese male would result in a completely different experience. When considering the effects of alcohol on the body (and the heart), it is important to be aware of and identify your own tolerance levels. Each person’s tolerance will differ based on their gender, build, amount of food in their body, genetics, family history, stress levels, type of drink, alcohol concentration, and current health. Keep each of these factors in mind the next time you reach for ‘just one more drink.’
Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
You may have noticed that when you have a drink, your heart has the tendency to beat faster. This is due to the remaining alcohol lingering in your bloodstream. Prolonged research has found that excessive drinking eventually leads to a weakened heart. The heart works harder as it pumps faster (raised heart rate) and the pressure of the valves increases (raised blood pressure). This strain on the heart can be fatal over time and eventually may lead to heart disease, stroke, heart attack, or cardiac arrest.
By reducing the overall amount of alcohol you consume, you are inevitably helping your heart over the long-term. Additionally, being aware of the recommended limits can help you determine when you may be drinking too much. According to the Canada Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines, the recommended drinking limit is as follows:
- Men = 15 drinks per week (3 drinks max. per day)
- Women = 10 drinks per week (2 drinks max. per day)
- NOTE: Women who are pregnant or trying are recommended 0 drinks.
Take note of how much you drink each week, and the alcohol percentage in each drink to ensure you give your body the care it deserves!
The French Paradox
You have probably heard the rumour that red wine is good for your heart – also known as the French Paradox. TheFrench Paradox is a catchphrase used to explain the unexplained reason that French people have a lower display of heart disease – red wine is one of the explanations to this paradox! Many rejoice in this idea and gravitate to wine as their go-to alcoholic beverage. Many also reason that the antioxidants found in red wine are beneficial to prevent coronary artery disease (a disease that often leads to heart attacks). The problem is that red wine still contains alcohol.
Although some studies have offered evidence that red wine reduces the likelihood of heart disease, some of this evidence was purely observational. As explained by Harvard Health Publishing, “… people who drink wine are more likely [to] do so as part of a healthy pattern, such as drinking a glass or two with a nice meal. Those habits – rather than their choice of alcohol – may explain their heart health.” Other factors need to be considered when approaching this paradox, such as the lifestyle and diet of each individual.
As discussed, alcohol still has a direct link to cardiovascular disease and anything in excess could trump the benefits. It is for this reason that red wine (as with any other alcoholic beverages) should be consumed in moderation. You wouldn’t go and eat a bar of dark chocolate every day just because it was said to have health benefits! Keep moderation in mind, and you will be doing your body a favour.
The next time you go out with friends or family for drinks, think of your heart! Small changes made to your diet and consumption today could be the thing to help you live a long and healthy life. Make the smart choice and drink responsibly and consider the effects of alcohol on your heart and overall health to get the most out of life!