A Closer Look at Alcohol and the Heart
By Sandy Schroeder
For some time now, people have been raising their glasses of red wine and toasting the prospects of long-term heart health, but HarvardHealth says the existing heart/alcohol research is full of contradictions, raising questions about alcohol’s impact.
Good and Bad Reports
Harvard’s Dr. J. Michael Gaziano says the problem with alcohol/heart research is it’s mostly based on observational studies that only show an association. Research does show alcohol can increase the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol by moving LDL (bad) cholesterol to the liver where it is removed from the body, but exercise also improves good cholesterol without as much risk.
Moderation vs. Quantity
Moderate amounts of alcohol have been endorsed but too much alcohol can have damaging effects.
Heart rate spikes - Research from the European Society of Cardiology indicates the more alcohol consumed at one time, the higher the heart rate may go. Overindulging can result in an irregular heartbeat, called atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure.
More impacts - The American Heart Association says drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood. It can also boost high blood pressure, increase calories leading to obesity, and raise the risk of diabetes, breast cancer, suicide and accidents.
Addiction is possible - The AMA says there is no way to predict which people will have trouble with alcoholism.
Age affects tolerance - Many people develop a tolerance to alcohol over time, but this ability tends to weaken with age. Also, other health conditions become more prevalent with age, and prescription medications can interfere with the way the body metabolizes alcohol.
Life expectancy drops - A recent study in The Lancet surveyed the drinking habits of 600,000 people who did not have heart disease. The ones who had 10 or more drinks per week died one to two years earlier than those who drank five drinks or less per week. Those who had 18 or more drinks per week reduced their life expectancy by four to five years.
Moderation rules - Researchers concluded there is no heart health benefit beyond one drink daily.
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 1 ½ ounces of 80-proof spirits
- 1 ounce of 100 proof
A glass of red wine with dinner may still be a good idea, but more research will have to be done to show exactly what the relationship of alcohol is with the heart and the body.
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