How much alcohol is too much for your heart health?
How much alcohol is too much for your heart health?
If you’ve been participating in Dry January, the practice of cutting out alcohol for the entire month, you may have figured something out. New research suggests you may also want to avoid heavy drinking year-round.
According to a report of the World Heart Federation, any amount of alcohol can be harmful to your health. The report explains that alcohol has been linked to all kinds of health problems, as well as accidents, loss of productivity and other behavioral risks such as smoking. In 2019, more than 2 million people worldwide died from alcohol-related causes, accounting for more than 4% of all deaths globally.
Another sobering statistic: Alcohol and heart disease can go hand-in-hand. Evidence suggests that alcohol increases the risks of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in women.
A 2018 study published in the medical journal The Lancet showed that consuming just one drink a day was associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure and other heart conditions compared with people who had zero to about two drinks a week.
The World Heart Foundation report recommends avoiding alcohol altogether. It outlines a range of policies governments can adopt to encourage alcohol avoidance, from tightening restrictions on access to alcohol to banning alcohol advertising and enforcing rules against drinking and driving.
Is drinking red wine good for the heart?
Haven’t we been told that there are benefits to drinking red wine? A glass of wine a day is bad or good for you?
The theory that red wine has health benefits is based on a natural ingredient called resveratrol, which is found in the skin and seeds of grapes. Resveratrol is seen as a antioxidant, with the potential to fight inflammation, microbes and some cancers. It may also protect heart and brain health. But studies also show the opposite: that resveratrol can also have harmful effects. These conflicting scientific results suggest that the health benefits of red wine may be overstated.
Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy the occasional wine, science simply doesn’t support what we’ve been led to believe.
The conventional wisdom that drinking red wine is good for you comes from previous studies showing that people who drank moderately had the lowest rates of heart disease.
“These studios make for good headlines, but there are so many different factors in each one,” she said Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, medical director of urgent care and family physician. “Alcohol and substances in red wine called antioxidants could help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks. (But) no link has been shown between red wines and fewer heart attacks.
The World Heart Federation report points to more recent studies that have challenged findings that alcohol is good for health. This reversal of scientific consensus has led health authorities in several countries to scale back their recommendations for how much alcohol is safe to drink.
Alcohol risks for women
According to Curry-Winchell, any level of alcohol consumption can increase the risks of developing certain cancers (such as breast, throat and colon) and affect the brain, heart and liver. Alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure AND your cholesterol level.
The risks associated with alcohol should be of particular concern to women.
“Compared with those who don’t drink or consume in moderation, women who drink heavily have a higher risk of osteoporosis, falls and hip fractures, early menopause, infertility and miscarriages, high blood pressure and heart disease,” said Curry-Winchell . .
According to National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholismwomen process (or metabolize) alcohol differently than men and may be more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol.
“Women have less body water than men of similar body weight, meaning that women typically have higher blood alcohol concentrations after drinking equivalent amounts to their male counterparts,” Curry-Winchell said.
So if you’ve been abstaining from alcohol and are looking forward to a few cocktails, he advises caution.
“You should always drink alcohol in moderation,” she said. “(And) despite the studies you see from time to time, you should never drink alcohol to reduce your risk of heart disease.”
Find the right balance for yourself
At the end of the day, how much alcohol is too much is a personal decision. As you consider your comfort with the right amount of alcohol for you, if any, it can be helpful to know that according to the Mayo Clinic, one drink a day is considered moderate consumption for women. Heavy drinking is defined as three drinks per day for women, and binge drinking is four or more drinks, or nearly a bottle of wine, within two hours.
Curry-Winchell says drinking any alcohol can still affect your health, but switching from heavy to moderate alcohol consumption can have positive effects on blood pressure and reduce your heart disease risks. And since drinking a lot of alcohol can damage your liver, less alcohol can mean a healthier liver, too.
“Even small doses of alcohol can have effects on the heart, including increased blood pressure (and) increased heart rate, and can potentially cause an irregular heartbeat,” Curry-Winchell said.
If you’re concerned about your heart health, you might consider cutting back on your favorite rosé or merlot. Your heart will thank you.
- A cardiologist explains if alcohol is good for the heart – HealthyWomen ›