Is Alcohol Really Good for the Heart?
Feb 6, 2012 - 6:03:19 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - February is Heart Month – on the 14th we celebrate affairs of the heart with Valentine’s Day, but the rest of the month we should be focusing on our heart’s health. Most of us believe that a moderate amount of alcohol is good for your heart. But, is that true? Maybe not.
While moderate drinking – 1 to less than 3 drinks a day – is linked to a decrease in death rates in middle-aged and older adults, there is concern that the health benefits of moderate drinking may be over estimated. Recently, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reviewed 44 studies that looked at the association between alcohol use and ischemic heart disease. Ischemic heart disease is a common cause of illness and death in the US. Symptoms include angina, heart pain and heart failure. This review of research showed some very interesting trends.
The protective effect of alcohol varied by sex, drinking patterns, and the specific health effects on each person. In general, women have a greater risk curve for disease and death when they drink. Even one drink a day can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Yet, one drink a day appears to have a protective effect against heart disease. This protection, however, can be wiped out if someone binge drinks just once in a month. Binge drinking is defined as 4 drinks in one day for women and more than 5 drinks for men. One monthly binge eliminated the health benefit of moderate drinking practiced on other days during the month.
Overdoing it on Valentine’s Day could put you at risk for a “holiday heart,” an uncomfortable and dangerous disruption in heart rhythms that can affect those even with no other symptoms of heart disease. Most people recognize that heavy drinking can damage the liver and even your brain. Fewer people are aware that excessive drinking can injure the heart muscle and its electrical fibers, leading to possible heart failure. One study showed that men who drank 5 beers a day were 46% more likely to suffer an irregular heartbeat. For women, 2 drinks a day increased their risk of irregular heartbeat by 60%.
Some experts actually speculate that moderate drinkers – those who stay with 1 glass of wine or a beer a day – are also people who lead a healthy life. Their positive lifestyle practices may actually be the real deterrent to health issues, not the small amount of alcohol they regularly drink.
Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, is the reason red wine is considered heart healthy. Sadly, in early 2012, it was discovered that a veteran resveratrol researcher, Dr. Dipak Das, had misrepresented data in 26 research papers over the last decade. This research scandal will cause ripples of mistrust against the assumptions that resveratrol is cardio-protective. It will take time to sort out the truth.
There are a lot of mixed messages regarding alcohol and heart heath. Is alcohol heart healthy or not? Actually both are true. If you decide to drink to improve heart heath, do it in small amounts. Drinking alcohol isn’t like depositing money in the bank. The heart benefits do not add up as you drink more.
Small amounts of alcohol daily raise the levels of good cholesterol (HDLs) and prevent the build up of deposits in the arteries which could lead to a heart attack.
A few studies have shown that those who drink one beer a day have less heart disease and live longer.
You should know: a moderate drink is 4 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 80 proof alcohol, and 1 ounce of 100% proof. Many drinks we order in restaurants and pour at home exceed this amount. After one drink the negative health risks increase with every extra drink according to Dr. Juergen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at CAMH.
It is also important to remember that healthy doses of alcohol only benefit some, but not all people. Even minimal drinking is not recommended for those who:
Have had a previous heart attack
Have heart failure or some other heart condition
Are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
Have had a hemorrhagic stroke
Have liver disease
Have pancreatic disease
Bottom line: If you are in good health drinking small amounts of alcohol is fine, but keep in mind that leading a healthy life trumps all.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
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For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
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