Affects Of Alcohol On Your Heart

by November 11, 2013

affects of alcohol on your heart

The affect of alcohol on your heart can be complex. For some people, even moderate alcohol use carries major risks. And the research is ongoing to clarify the relationship of alcohol and your heart health and heart disease.  Heart disease is so common that about one in 12 suffer from it.

Are You Exceeding Moderate Alcohol Consumption?

You may have heard that moderate alcohol consumption (red wine or beer) may offer some people protection against heart disease. However, until more is known about the pros and cons of alcohol consumption, the American Heart Association cautions people NOT to start drinking alcohol for better heart health.

There are two definitions associated with alcohol consumption, moderate and excessive.  Moderate alcohol use is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Excessive alcohol use is defined as drinking more than three drinks per day for men or women.

One drink equals 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Moderate or minimal alcohol use can be harmful for people who have:

  • A personal or family history of alcohol abuse
  • A personal or family history of liver disease or pancreatitis
  • Heart failure, cardiomyopathy, uncontrolled high blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), history of sudden cardiac death or stroke, or high triglycedrides
  • Had a heart attack (alcohol can cause further damage to the heart muscle)
  • Diabetes (alcohol affects your blood glucose level)

People who are taking antidepressants, antibiotics, pain medications and other medications should speak to their doctor before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can interfere with the effects of your medications and can cause serious side effects. You should not drink alcohol if you are pregnant.

Various Health Ailments from Alcohol

There are different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease and can lead to sudden death from a heart attack. It’s caused by the gradual build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries in your heart (the coronary arteries). These deposits cause the artery to narrow, and make it harder for it to supply your heart muscle with the oxygen and nutrients which it needs to function normally.

Long-term excessive drinking increases your risk of developing heart health problems.  Drinking more than the daily unit guidelines regularly and over a long period of time can increase your risk of developing heart disease.  Drinking at this level can:

  • Increase the risk of high blood pressure. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes raised blood pressure increasing the risk for heart attack or a stroke. Alcohol is thought to do this through its effects on the kidneys and the blood vessels. Increases in your blood pressure can also be caused by weight gain from excessive drinking.
  • Weaken the heart muscle – the heart can’t pump blood as efficiently, known as cardiomyopathy and can cause heart failure.
  • Lead to an enlarged heart – a sign that the heart is unable to effectively pump blood around the body, and is known as heart failure.

Research does suggest that small amounts of alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart when drinking well within the recommended guidelines.

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits that could:

  • Reduce your risk of developing heart disease
  • Reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack
  • Possibly reduce your risk of strokes, particularly ischemic strokes
  • Lower your risk of gallstones
  • Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

Even so, the evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn’t certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks.

Moderate alcohol use may be of most benefit only if you’re an older adult or if you have existing risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol.  However you can take other steps to benefit your cardiovascular health besides drinking — eating a healthy diet and exercising, for example.

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