It’s unlikely that there are many people who would try to make the argument that drinking alcohol is actually good for you, but there can be a somewhat surprising amount of confusion over how drinking actually affects your heart. For people who’ve already had a heart attack or are dealing with high blood pressure or heart disease, it’s doubly important to get accurate information about how booze can impact the cardiovascular system.
Alcohol has a number of effects on the heart, both in the short and the long term. When you take a drink, the immediate result is an increase in blood pressure and the speed of your heartbeat. Over the long term, heavy drinking can have an expansive negative effect on your cardiovascular system and potential damage to the heart and blood vessels.
Results of habitual binge drinking include hypertension, increased heart rate, and a higher risk of irregular heartbeat. Too much alcohol can also cause the buildup of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and the hardening of arteries, causing increased risk of blockages which may culminate in a heart attack or stroke.
By now, most of us have probably heard the one about a glass of red wine being good for your heart, but research on actual health benefits of alcohol is unclear so far. Some research has indicated that there can be positive effects associated with a small amount of alcohol consumption, with one study finding that people who drank in moderation throughout their lives were about 20% less likely to die from heart disease than those who did not drink.
However, this research cannot fully account for other factors which may contribute to the risk of mortality due to heart-related issues and should not be taken as an unreserved endorsement of drinking for health reasons.
When people talk about drinking having health benefits, the drink that comes up most often is red wine (“for the antioxidants”), but research would suggest that the amount you drink has a lot more to do with the health impact than what your drink of choice is. Doctors are generally in agreement that keeping your drinking in moderation is key. This means at maximum one to two drinks a day for men, or one per day for women. One drink is generally characterized as twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one to one-and-a-half ounces of liquor.
Everybody’s body works differently and there is no all-encompassing answer for whether or not drinking is okay for you. Most people should be okay to continue drinking in moderation even after being diagnosed with heart disease, but it’s important to discuss this with your doctor in case there are any underlying issues that may cause additional problems. That being said, studies on actual benefits to be gained from drinking are inconclusive and if you are not a drinker now, you shouldn’t start in pursuit of better health.
With heart disease as with so many other health conditions, it’s so important to get regular checkups and know your risk for heart disease and potentially dangerous cardiovascular events like a heart attack or stroke. Manhattan Cardiology offers a variety of cardiovascular screenings including heart screenings and exercise stress tests, as well as screenings for stroke and high cholesterol. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment so that you can take control of your cardiovascular health!