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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Alcohol and Your Heart Health

Wine corks arranged in a heart shape.
Alcohol and heart health have an uneasy relationship. For years, heart patients were cautioned against drinking, since we know that excessive alcohol may cause irreversible weakening of the heart muscle, and can also contribute to heart rhythm disturbances such as atrial fibrillation.

While no one has done randomized studies of alcohol’s long term effects on human health, thousands of observational reports have been published over the past 40 or more years, most pointing to a protective effect of moderate alcohol consumption on the heart.

In February of this year, Canadian Paul Ronksley and associates published a review and meta-analysis of 84 studies that addressed alcohol and heart health. (A meta-analysis is a scientific method that statistically combines the results of a number of different studies that all address the same issue, in order to reach a stronger conclusion about the subject). The results, reported in British Medical Journal, generally supported a protective role for alcohol when enjoyed in moderation. Moderate alcohol in this analysis meant one to two drinks daily, with one drink being a 12 ounce beer, a five ounce glass of wine, or one and one half ounce of liquor. Mild use was considered one drink or less daily.

Overall, a 25 percent reduction in heart disease risk was found in mild to moderate drinkers compared to abstainers, although there did not appear to be any impact on stroke risk. There was also a 13 percent reduction in all causes of death. The benefit was seen in both women and men, although I usually caution my patients who are women to limit themselves to one drink daily, since more than that can raise breast cancer risk.

Although moderate drinkers had the edge in this analysis, it does not mean that you can abstain all week and then make up for it on the weekend. Dr. Jean-Bernard Ruidavets, a French physician and researcher, reported in January’s British Medical Journal that regularly indulging in five or more drinks in one day actually doubled the risk for heart attacks and heart related deaths.

The good news is that you really can drink to your health, as long as you do so responsibly. It should go without saying that you should never drive under the influence. And if you know have a tendency to abuse alcohol, then this is one habit you need to pass up.

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Tags: Alcohol and the Heart

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.