Alcohol and heart disease

Studies have shown that low to moderate alcohol consumption (no more than 2 drinks a day for men, 1 drink a day for women) may decrease the risk of coronary artery disease.1

Equivalents of 1 alcoholic drink

Beer

12 fl oz (355 mL)

Wine

5 fl oz (148 mL)

Hard alcohol

1.5 fl oz (44 mL)

Moderate wine drinking (1 to 2 glasses a day) may decrease the risk of complications after a heart attack. In a recent randomized, controlled study of middle-aged male survivors of heart attack, moderate wine drinking was associated with a significant reduction over a 4-year period in the risk of complications.2

Alcohol appears to have an antioxidant protective effect on the arteries. Alcohol also may increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol and may have a slight blood-thinning effect.1

Although these studies show that wine may be beneficial, the American Heart Association (AHA) states that the link between wine and reduced coronary artery disease has not been proven. Without a large-scale trial that focuses specifically on wine intake and its association with heart disease risk, the AHA urges individuals to talk to their doctors about the benefits and risks of drinking alcoholic beverages.3

Drinking too much alcohol can be dangerous and can cause problems. Having more than 1 alcoholic drink daily for women or more than 2 drinks daily for men may:

  • Contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for coronary artery disease.
  • Directly damage heart muscle (alcoholic cardiomyopathy), which may weaken the heart, leading to heart failure.
  • Cause abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
  • Slightly increase the risk of breast cancer in women.
  • Interact with your medicines if you are being treated for heart disease (or other diseases or conditions).
  • Increase your risk of liver disease.

People who have liver problems, heart failure, high blood pressure, certain blood disorders, or problems with alcohol abuse should not drink any alcohol.

Given the risks related to alcohol consumption, the American Heart Association cautions people not to start drinking and to consult their doctors on the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.3

Citations

  1. Guest TM, Raylor WR (2000). Coronary atherosclerosis: Effects of aspirin, oxidative stress, alcohol, and psychological factors. In WT Branch et al., eds., Cardiology in Primary Care, pp. 241–251. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. De Lorgeril M, et al. (2002). Wine drinking and risks of cardiovascular complications after recent acute myocardial infarction. Circulation, 106(12): 1465–1469.
  3. Goldberg IJ, et al. (2001). Wine and your heart: A science advisory for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, and Council on Cardiovascular Nursing of the American Heart Association. Circulation, 103(3): 472–475.

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