How Alcohol Affects Your Heart Health

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Many things can cause heart problems. They're called risk factors. You can’t control some of them. But use of alcohol—which is a risk factor for heart problems—is something you can control.   

Most adults can drink alcohol in moderation and be fine. That means 1 to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 to 1.5 ounces of spirits, depending on the proof.  

However, there's more you should know about alcohol and your heart. 

Dangers of Excessive Drinking

Drinking too much alcohol causes more than a high. Here are some of the ways alcohol affects your heart:

  • Drinking too much alcohol can raise the level of triglycerides in your blood. They're a type of fat. Excess triglycerides can build up in your blood vessels and cause them to harden and narrow. Blocked blood vessels can result in a heart attack or a stroke.Excessive drinking also can cause high blood pressure and heart failure.

  • Alcohol use can also lead to weight gain. Alcohol has calories. For instance, a 12-ounce beer has about 150 calories, and 1.5 ounces of gin or vodka has about 100 calories. The calories can add up, leading to weight gain, and that can tax your heart.

  • Consuming too much alcohol can lead to even more deadly heart problems. Cardiomyopathy, which is weakening of the heart muscle, is one of them. Others include an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops working.

If your heart or other blood vessels are damaged, your body’s system for pumping blood won’t work right. This can lead to heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Heart disease kills more women and men in the United States than anything else.

Benefits of Alcohol on the Heart 

Some research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption can actually protect your heart. There is some evidence that alcohol can help raise the level of good cholesterol (HDL). It also may help keep platelets from sticking together. Platelets are cells in blood that help it clot. But when platelets clump together, they form clots that can break off and cause a stroke or heart attack.

And What About Red Wine?

You may have heard that a glass of red wine a day can be good for your heart. The reason is that the skin of red grapes naturally contains substances—antioxidants called flavonoids—that protect you from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that form in cells and damage them. 

Wine also helps some people relax and thus reduce their stress. Stress can contribute to heart disease. It also can lead to binge drinking. It’s a matter of finding a balance.  

Also, health experts still aren't certain that red wine in moderation has heart benefits. A study published in 2014 in “JAMA Internal Medicine," a journal of the American Medical Association, found that older people who drank wine did not live longer or have a lower risk for heart disease. The earlier research that suggests wine might be good for you looked at the hearts of people who have no other health issues.  

The Bottom Line

If you drink, do so in moderation and within the guidelines as recommended by the American Heart Association. Check in with yourself about how much you typically drink per day, and cut back if necessary. It’s also a good idea to discuss your drinking habits with your doctor at your next physical.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 10

  1. February is American Heart Month; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth/

  2. Alcohol & Heart Health, American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Alcohol-and-Heart-Health_...

  3. Rethinking Drinking, National Institutes of Health http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/toolsresources/caloriecalculator.asp 

  4. A glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away, Yale-New Haven Hospital http://www.ynhh.org/about-us/red_wine.aspx

  5. Resveratrol Levels and all-cause mortality in older community dwelling adults, JAMA Internal Medicine, Richard D. Semba, et al, July 2014 http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1868537#Conclusions

  6. Stress and heart health, American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/HowDoesStressAffectYou/Stress-and-Hear...Alcohol and heart disease, Women’s Heart Foundation http://www.womensheart.org/content/heartdisease/alcohol_and_heart_disease.asp

  7. What is cardiovascular disease, American heart association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular...

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