Alcohol and Nutrition (cont.)

How does alcohol affect your heart?

Heart disease is so common that about one in 12 of us suffer from it. There are many links to diet and lifestyle both for causes and for treatments of this disease. Alcohol has been promoted on both sides. Research is clear that heavy, long-term drinking damages your heart by weakening your heart muscle and causing a condition known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. What many don't realize is that drinking a large amount when you are not used to drinking can be just as dangerous. This is typically seen at parties during the holiday season and has been nicknamed "holiday heart syndrome." Excess quantities in the short- and long-term will damage your heart so limitations need to be set.

On the flip side, research has shown that moderate drinking may have health benefits for your heart. This is often the reason people use for having their glass of wine each day. A Danish study of 27,178 men and 29,875 women who were free of coronary heart disease (CHD) monitored their intake of alcohol over 5.7 years. The men who drank the most alcohol had a lower risk of CHD. One drink a week lowered the risk by about 7%, two to four drinks by 22%, and five or six drinks a week by 29%. Those who drank every day had a 41% lower risk of heart disease than those who did not drink at all. The women also experienced a decrease in risk, but the frequency of drinking did not have the same impact as with the men. One drink a week lowered the risk by 36%, but daily drinking lowered it by 35%. The limitation to this study was that binge drinking and the number of drinks at each occasion were not studied. The pattern of drinking seems important for the possible cardioprotective effect of alcohol, and the risk of CHD is generally lower for steady versus binge drinking. Higher drinking levels increase the risk of death from cancer, liver cirrhosis, trauma, and other types of heart disease.

Unfortunately, there are several other limitations to the possible heart benefits of alcohol. The research that has shown a lower risk of developing heart disease is based on moderate drinking; no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Many other factors also play a role in the development of heart disease. Your diet, your health and any medical conditions that you have, your genes, your age, and medications that you take will all change how alcohol affects your heart. These limitations mean that you can end up damaging your heart instead of helping it. Your doctor is the one to help you determine if a moderate amount of alcohol will provide any benefits for lowering your risk of heart disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/31/2014

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