Drinking alcohol excessively increases your risk of heart disease. You’ve likely heard about the benefits of moderate drinking on overall health, from the antioxidant-rich resveratrol in red wine to claims that alcohol can actually be good for your heart.
The thing is, any positive benefits of drinking alcohol can be achieved in other ways. We’re talking about a healthy diet, exercise, and the management of your stress.
All of that and limiting your alcohol intake is better for your heart than the power of one glass of wine. Heavy drinking in general increases your risk of developing a number of heart conditions.
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How does alcohol affect the heart?
Alcohol is bad for your heart in large amounts. Excessive drinking, or binge drinking, can lead to high blood pressure, heart diseases like cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and strokes.
There is some evidence out there that shows that low amounts of alcohol consumption can lead to some positive heart outcomes, but it is stressed that this cardiology research is not definite.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov) define moderate drinking as 1 drink per day for women and 2 alcoholic beverages or less per day for men.
These are standard-sized drinks, meaning 12 ounces of regular beer or 4-5 ounces of wine or champagne. (The alcohol content of champagne is similar to that of most lighter white wines, but flute pours are typically just shy of a typical wine pour.)
The American Heart Association’s stance on public health is: Drinking less is better than drinking more. If you don’t already drink, you shouldn’t start just because you heard red wine might be good for your health.
Does alcohol affect cholesterol?
Alcohol can affect cholesterol by increasing the number of triglycerides in your blood. High triglycerides are linked to LDL cholesterol, which in turn is connected to conditions like fatty liver disease and a buildup in your arteries.
Clogged arteries can lead to an increased risk for various heart problems, including coronary artery disease.
Sugars and carbohydrates in certain beers or mixed alcoholic drinks can cause temporary jumps in your cholesterol and lead to obesity. What you’re sipping could be empty calories.
Alcohol on its own doesn’t contain any cholesterol. There have been studies that show a potential link and protective effect between red wine and increases in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the “good” cholesterol.
HDL is good for clearing out the arteries flowing to and from your heart and preventing blood clots.
More significantly, drinking too much alcohol overall can become a risk factor for low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad” kind of cholesterol.
What are the health risks of drinking too much alcohol?
The health risks of drinking too much alcohol include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Diabetes complications
- Liver damage
- Medication interaction
- Sleep disturbances
Moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable for many adults, but drinking too much alcohol can lead to dysfunction.
Specific to your heart health, excessive drinking can weaken your heart muscle enough that it causes cardiomyopathy. That means your heart becomes less efficient, working harder to pump blood throughout the body. This level of alcohol consumption can eventually lead to heart failure.
Binge drinking puts you at risk for a variety of health conditions.
Benefits of Drinking Less Alcohol
Drinking less alcohol affects the heart in a few different ways:
- Improved heart rate: Drinking too much can cause arrhythmias or an irregular heart rhythm. One potential complication is atrial fibrillation, a rapid heart rate that can cause heart disease or stroke. This improves by abstaining from alcohol.
- Lowered blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is particularly dangerous to your heart. It can lead to heart disease and stroke if you don’t take the proper steps to decrease it. That includes drinking less, especially if your drinking more than standard drink sizes.
- Lower risk of stroke: Irregular heart rate from too much drinking is a known predictor of blood clots and possible stroke. Multiple studies have shown that heavy drinking can increase your stroke risk, particularly in adults over 50.
Any positive benefit moderate drinkers get from the occasional alcoholic beverage can be achieved in other ways.
Those same components in red wine that boost your HDL cholesterol are also found in the skins of plain old red grapes. Lower cholesterol overall can be achieved with regular physical activity and weight management.
It’s much easier to watch the calories when you’re not drinking alcohol, by the way.
The health benefits of drinking less alcohol are far more significant, especially when it comes to your heart.
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Does alcoholism cause heart disease?
Coronary heart disease due to too much alcohol, or alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a condition caused by chronic heavy drinking. The condition causes your heart to work less efficiently, damaging the muscle and straining your blood vessels.
Can you drink alcohol with heart disease?
There is no safe drinking level for those with heart disease, including people with a family history of heart attacks or alcohol abuse.
Most significant heart risks are associated with heavy drinking.
There are some groups of people who just shouldn’t drink at all. That includes pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding, people on certain medications, and anyone with a history of alcohol addiction.
Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure whether that occasional cocktail is harmful to your health, especially if you have a history of heart problems.
Signs of Alcohol-Related Heart Disease
The signs of heart disease include chest pain or chest discomfort, heart palpitations, and a rapid or irregular pulse or heart rate.
In addition to the general symptoms of heart disease, the symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy specifically include:
- Shortness of breath, even when resting
- Muscle weakness or loss of muscle mass
- Fatigue or dizziness
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
- Muscle cramps and muscle stiffness
- Twitches, spasms
- Dark urine
- Difficulty concentrating
Mild cases may have minor symptoms. Depending on your case, cardiomyopathy caused by alcohol can be improved if you abstain from alcohol. In fact, the first step in treatment of the condition is to stop drinking completely.
If you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease and want more information, talk to your healthcare provider or a cardiologist.
What to Drink Instead
No matter your weight, if you’re working on your cardiovascular health, there just isn’t a safe amount of alcohol that will improve your heart as much as just not drinking will.
There is no magic number when it comes to ounces of wine to improve your vascular health. Even a small amount of alcohol can be detrimental if you’re already at risk of heart disease.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. The good news is, when you stop drinking, you have a good chance of dramatically improving health problems developed as a result of drinking to excess.
You can also still have a delicious — and healthier — time with the non-alcoholic options out there, whether you’re cutting back temporarily or seeking long-term alcohol alternatives.
Try our non-alcoholic rosé or sauvignon blanc for the classics. If you want some fizz, try our sparkling white, canned brut wine, or sparkling rosé. You can keep your heart healthy and enjoy what you’re drinking with Surely.
- Alcohol use disorders and the heart
- Positive effects of alcohol drinking?
- Impact of Red Wine Consumption on Cardiovascular Health
- Alcohol and the heart
- Heart rate variability in alcohol use: A review
- The effect of a reduction in alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Alcohol consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis
- Alcoholic cardiomyopathy: incidence, clinical characteristics, and pathophysiology
- Alcoholic cardiomyopathy