Alcohol Consumption and Heart Health – Is It Good or Bad for You?
There has been quite a bit of research undertaken on how alcohol affects the heart and general health. Some conflicting conclusions have been drawn that alcohol can alternately be bad or curative for you. However, while most studies show an association between alcohol and changes in the heart, very few have proven cause and effect. So, what’s the truth?
First, let’s discuss a few key background points on alcohol.
- Alcohol increases blood sugars. Yes, it doesn’t taste as sweet as a soda or fruit juice, for example, but alcohol increases blood sugar levels. However, alcohol prevents the liver from releasing glucose, causing what approximates hypoglycemia, especially after heavy drinking. This is particularly bad for diabetics, but even for the average person, it can add calories and cause discomfort.
- Alcohol producers are not required to publish sugar and caloric information and it can be hard to know how much sugar you are consuming. Further, many drinks are mixed, adding more sugar and calories.
- Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can make it easier to overeat. It may cause you to eat hundreds of extra calories we were not expecting. And we all know bar food is usually not the healthiest, leanest option out there.
- Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it flushes water out of the body. That lethargic feeling you get the morning after drinking, or the hangover after drinking a lot, is, in part, caused by dehydration. Dehydration causes all manner of problems in the body and even changes the composition of your blood, which can affect your heart and circulatory system.
The Possible Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
Alcohol may increase the heart rate and does so in a somewhat linear fashion. The more you drink, the greater the effect. While an increase in heart rate is not necessarily a bad thing for a healthy person, it can be problematic for someone already suffering from heart disease.
Moderate alcohol consumption may have a beneficial effect by increasing good cholesterol or HDL.
So, is there a good answer?
For those suffering from heart disease or who are struggling with excess weight or obesity, removing alcohol from the diet is a good way to start the weight loss process and reduce pressure on the heart. Of course, this is not to say that a moderate amount of alcohol occasionally would be harmful. In fact, if it is a source of enjoyment, it can help set the tone for a nice relaxing evening with friends or family.
It is when you begin to consume alcohol in larger quantities that it becomes truly problematic. And beyond the calories and heart health concerns, becoming dependent on alcohol to relax after a stressful day can end in serious problems, not least of which is addiction. If you are relying on alcohol to wind down from a difficult day, you may likely have an underlying stress concern that needs to be addressed. How we manage stress is a big part of our heart health. Being on the edge all the time has significant detrimental effects to your cardiovascular health.
We always suggest that if you wish to have a drink occasionally, and your doctor hasn’t told you otherwise, enjoy it. But be mindful of how much you are consuming.