Heart failure is a chronic, serious condition where the heart does not effectively pump oxygen and nutrient-rich blood needed for the functioning of the cells and tissues. This causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, loss of appetite, and swelling, particularly in the feet, legs, and abdomen.
Many studies have been conducted investigating the link between alcohol and heart health, but with conflicting results. So whether or not moderate alcohol consumption is good or bad for your heart is up for debate.
Generally, however, alcohol in small to moderate amounts may be allowed for people with heart failure, although it’s best to ask your doctor about how much you can have.
Does alcohol promote heart health?
Alcohol may interact with some medications prescribed for heart failure, and it can also affect your sleep quality and liver health. According to some studies, heart failure patients who drank more than 80 grams of alcohol a day experienced further deterioration of heart function (left ventricular ejection fraction or LVEF).
However, the same studies also showed that patients who controlled their alcohol intake to 20-60 grams a day experienced an improvement in LVEF. Other studies have suggested that moderate amounts of alcohol may actually have beneficial effects on the heart, such as improved lipid profile, reduced risk of blood clots, and lower risks of heart attack and stroke.
So does a little drinking hurt or help people with heart failure? The truth is, research is inconclusive, and the beneficial effects of alcohol in patients with heart failure are not well documented.
The beneficial effects of alcohol in patients with heart failure, however, are not well documented. Thus, if you do not drink alcohol, you must not start having it with the hopes of reaping health benefits.
How much alcohol is too much?
Moderate alcohol consumption equates to no more than an average of:
- 1 drink a day for women
- 1-2 drinks per day for men
One drink is defined differently depending on the alcoholic beverage:
- Beer: 12 ounces
- Wine: 5 ounces
- Spirits (vodka, gin, bourbon): 1.5 ounces
People who should completely avoid alcohol include:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- People with liver damage
- Women planning to conceive
- Individuals under 21
What are the potential harmful effects of too much alcohol?
Several studies have shown that drinking too much alcohol is associated with an increased risk of obesity and high blood pressure. Persistently high blood pressure can contribute to cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke.
According to a study conducted by the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD), alcohol was the seventh leading cause of death and disability worldwide in 2016.
Excessive drinking can harm heart health by:
- Raising the levels of some fats in the blood called triglycerides. A raised level of triglycerides combined with low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) can cause the buildup of fatty depositions in the arteries. This leads to a raised risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Causing a heart condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which damages the heart muscles and may lead to heart failure.
- Causing increased blood pressure, blood clots and cardiac arrhythmia (problems with heart rhythm).
- Causing premature aging of the arteries.
- Contributing to extra calories that lead to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes.
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Colucci WS, Rafie IM. Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/alcoholic-cardiomyopathy?search=alcohol%20heart%20failure&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1
GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. 2018; 392(10152): 1015-1035. https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext
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