Alcohol – a balanced point of view
Alcohol statisics for the United States make for sobering reading – each year more than 100,000 people die from alcohol related conditions and the effects of alcohol consumption. But is it all bad news where alcohol and heart disease is concerned ?
Every one in the adult population has different alcohol consumption habits and patterns, ranging from those who drink no alcohol at all, to those who are classed as chronic alcoholics. Alcohol can be both good and bad for our health, and our heart health, and the main difference between the two is the amount consumed.
After many years of alcohol statistics research involving nearly one million people, it would appear that many people who drink moderately, which is classed as not more than one or two drinks per day, live longer lives than either heavy drinkers, or those who are teetotal. (A drink is defined as one 12 oz. glass of beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.)
Alcohol heart health problems
Heavy drinking has been proven to have a directly negative effect on heart health. Ethanol is the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, and it is this chemical that can wreak havoc on the body’s internal organs when consumed in excessive quantities. There are a number of different illnesses that can result from alcohol abuse :-
- Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some types of fat known as triglycerides in the blood
- Alcohol consumption increases the body’s calorie intake, and has very little nutritional value. Regular excess calorie intake can in turn lead to obesity and consequently a greater risk of developing diabetes
- Excessive alcohol consumption on a regular basis can lead to high blood pressure, enlargement of the heart which is known as dilated cardiomyopathy, and heart failure, which is the inability of the heart to pump sufficient blood around the body
- Binge drinking where vast amounts of alcohol are consumed, for example twenty drinks in one evening, can lead to abnormal heart rhythms know as arrhythmia, stroke or even sudden cardiac death
- Drinking too much alcohol also increases the risk of non-heart related illness such as alcoholism and breast cancer, and also death by misadventure due to alcohol-related accidents and even suicide
It is important to note that heart problems in women may be caused by less alcohol consumption than men – the recommended daily alcohol intake for women is approximately one quarter less than that for men.
Potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption to health
There have been many studies that have concluded that small amounts of alcohol could help to protect the heart against the causes of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke, specifically in men over 40 years of age and postmenopausal women. This may be due to a combination of factors including :-
- Increased levels of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol which is the ‘good’ cholesterol, although regular exercise, and dietary niacin supplements can also produce this increase
- Reduced ‘stickiness’ of the blood, due to the presence of resveratrol (an anti-clotting agent) which may help to prevent platelets from forming which could turn into blood clots, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke
- Potential benefits of certain compounds such as flavonoids and other antioxidants in reducing heart disease risk. Red wine has been singled out as a particularly rich source of these compounds, although they can be obtained from other natural non-alcoholic food sources such as fruit and vegetables
- Most sensible drinkers tend to have healthy lifestyles in other areas of their lives. For instance they are more likely to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, take regular heart exercise and get sufficient sleep. They are also more likely to have more relaxed lifestyles, better social lives and increased emotional and physical happiness.
Serious immediate warnings concerning alcohol and heart health
You should not drink any alcohol whatsoever if you are pregnant, as this can seriously harm your unborn baby, and may potentially cause birth defects.
According to advice published by the American Heart Association, if you are taking long term aspirin medication (prescribed by your physician) to reduce the possibility of blood clotting, you should not be drinking any alcohol, and should continue to take your prescribed aspirin dosage.
Alcohol Advice for newly diagnosed Heart Disease patients
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advice is that If you have been newly diagnosed with a heart disease condition you should stop drinking alcohol.
Best advice is not to drink alcohol to achieve health goals
According to advice from the British Heart Foundation it is not advisable for anyone to target drinking alcohol specifically to protect against heart disease. Their advice is that there are better options – starting with taking more physical heart exercise, stopping smoking, consulting with your physician about lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling your weight, and following a healthy diet.
This is reinforced by the fact that there is currently no scientific proof that drinking red wine or any other alcoholic beverage can replace these more traditional health measures.