We’ve all heard the claims that drinking a little alcohol each day is beneficial to your health. But is there truth in that statement? According to John Hopkins Medicine, some studies support the idea that moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of dying from heart disease. However, on the flip side, drinking excessively can contribute to several heart health issues, including high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. Heavy drinking also can contribute to a disorder affecting the heart muscle, called cardiomyopathy. Just how connected is alcohol and heart health?
Does Drinking Alcohol Prevent Heart-Related Diseases?
As mentioned earlier, a few medical studies have shown a link between moderate consumption of alcohol and a lower risk of developing heart disease. With that said, it’s challenging to determine an exact cause and effect from those studies – for example, individuals with a higher income tend to drink more red wine and have access to healthier food options, compared to those with lower incomes. Therefore, middle-high class groups tend to eat a heart-healthier diet, which directly relates back to their overall general health.
Wine has antioxidants, which may help to slightly raise HDL cholesterol levels – the “good” kind of cholesterol. But doctors don’t recommend running to the bottle to reap those health benefits – getting adequate exercise and adopting healthy eating habits is the better solution!
How Much is Too Much?
When it comes to drinking alcohol, moderation is key! Binge drinking can be very dangerous, and over-consumption can happen very easily. Heavy drinking increases risk of high blood pressure and binge-drinking can lead to a holiday heart attack! Binge drinking is particularly dangerous as one of the cardiovascular side effects is irregular heart rate. Consuming a lot of alcohol at once can force blood pressure to rise quickly, triggering a heart attack in a person with an underlying heart problem. When it comes to alcohol and heart health, drinking too much can have dire consequences!
Doctors warn that those with pre-existing heart conditions, heart rhythm abnormalities or who have heart failure should avoid drinking alcohol altogether!
Helpful tip: For men, try limiting alcohol intake to three drinks per day, to a weekly maximum of 15. Women should limit themselves to two drinks per day, to a weekly maximum of 10. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.
Alcoholism and Heart Health
Of important note, alcohol is a legal drug – but it is still a drug, nonetheless. In Canada, alcohol is the most common drug used by Canadians, with at least 20 per cent of drinkers consuming above Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. These guidelines were developed against a backdrop of meta-analyses and systematic reviews showing that low levels of alcohol use is associated with health benefits resulting in lower risks of illness and premature death, notably from ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke and diabetes. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction reported that in 2002, alcohol was responsible for 4,258 deaths in Canada, which represented 1.9 per cent of all deaths.
Alcohol abuse leads to long-term health complications, including liver failure, cancer and heart disease. Alcohol use disorder can increase the risk of a heart attack up to 40 per cent, due to extensive damage to the cardiovascular system. If you or a loved one struggles with alcoholism, speak to your doctor.
Enjoying Alcohol – Responsibly!
Drinking alcohol with friends and family is a social opportunity, for many. For others, it can lead to addiction and severe health consequences. Like many other things in life, drinking in moderation is recommended, regardless of current health status. Alcohol and heart health are connected, and doctors advise drinking with caution, especially during the festive season, when food is plenty, and alcohol seems to flow freely. Make smart choices when it comes to alcohol consumption and protect your heart health!