You may have heard that drinking alcoholic beverages like red wine can help your heart. That may be true, but it all depends on how much you drink.
More and more research shows that heavy drinking is harmful for your heart. Studies have linked it to risks like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms or beats.
The newest study, which involved more than 2600 people, suggests that alcohol may harm the heart before patients even develop symptoms. Norwegian researchers grouped participants from the general population based on their level of drinking: harmful drinkers, hazardous drinkers, non-problem drinkers, and non-drinkers and compared their results to people with serious alcohol problems.
Then researchers looked for substances, called biomarkers, in the blood that indicate problems for the heart. These included high‐sensitivity cardiac troponin T. When it enters the bloodstream, it means that the heart has become damaged. Tests for troponin T are often used in the emergency room to tell if someone has had a heart attack. The high-sensitivity version of troponin T is now available outside of the emergency room to help find very small amounts that could spell future heart trouble.
Researchers also looked for levels of NT‐proBNP, which detects changes in the heart muscle that might mean heart failure, and high‐sensitivity C‐reactive protein, or hs-CRP. When it is present, it means there is inflammation in the body that can harm the heart.
Scientists found that heavy drinkers had higher levels of all three of the biomarkers. Compared to people who don’t drink alcohol, the harmful drinkers had about 10% higher levels of high‐sensitivity cardiac troponin T, 46% higher levels of NT-proBNP, and almost 70% higher hs-CRP levels. One finding was especially concerning: it’s possible to have high levels of a biomarker and heart disease without any symptoms at all.
Doctors advise that, to stay healthy, men should drink no more than 2 drinks a day and women no more than 1 drink a day. A standard drink is defined as 12 oz. of regular beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits, which include rum, gin, vodka, bourbon, scotch and other types of liquor.
Low levels of drinking may be heart healthy, at least for some. A 2017 study showed that light to moderate drinking lowered the risk of dying from heart disease and all other causes. But heavy drinking raised these risks a lot.
In the study, researchers looked at the medical records of more than 333,000 people. The participants were split up into 6 groups:
- People who had never drunk alcohol
- People who drank infrequently
- Former drinkers
- Current light drinkers (less than 3 drinks/week)
- Moderate drinkers (more than 3 drinks/week to less than 14 drinks/week for men or less than 7 drinks/week for women.
- Heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks/week for men or more than 7 drinks/week for women.)
The result: Men who drank infrequently or moderately had a 21% lower risk of dying from heart problems than men who didn’t drink at all, and women who drank infrequently or moderately had a 34% lower risk of heart-related death. Moderate drinking was also linked to a 13% lower risk of all-cause death in men and a 25% decrease in women. Light drinking had similar effects. At the same time, men who were heavy drinkers had a 25% higher risk of dying from any cause.
Keep in mind that some people should not drink alcohol. If you have heart failure or heart rhythm problems, ask your doctor if it’s wise to drink. Or better yet, try some of the new non-alcoholic beers and wines. They are more and more popular and now available in the US and Europe.
It’s easy to get carried away at a party or a get-together with friends and drink too much. To lighten your alcohol load, drink a non-alcoholic beverage after each alcoholic one. Eating while you drink can also slow the absorption of alcohol and make you feel full so you drink less. These steps can help you make sure that alcohol isn’t harming your heart!