Alcohol and Heart Disease

The results of a study have shown that heavy drinking causes high blood, stiff arteries and rigid heart muscles in men and enlarged hearts in women, raising their risk of having heart attacks and strokes.

“We definitely see quite a deleterious effect,” said Dr. Azra Mahmud of St. James Hospital in Dublin, who led the study. “The most worrisome aspect is in women. It has a direct toxic effect. Basically, women are not able to cope with high alcohol consumption. It is going directly to the heart and damaging it.”

Mahmud studied 200 men and women with an average age of 46 who were referred to her hypertension clinic but were not being treated for high blood pressure. People in the study were put into three categories: non-drinkers, moderate drinkers (fewer than 21 drinks a week for men and fewer than 14 a week for women) and heavy drinkers (over 21 drinks a week for men and 14 a week for women). About 20% of the women and 40% of men fell into the heavy drinker category. Researchers measured the heart muscle and assessed stiffness of arteries and blood pressure inside the aorta. They found that men who were the heaviest drinkers were most likely to have high blood pressure and stiffening of the arteries and heart muscle. Women who were the heaviest drinkers were most likely to have enlarged hearts. The findings were above what would be expected for people of the same age with high blood pressure.

Alcohol and Heart Disease

The Spinal Centre’s Comment:

There is no doubt that Australians love a drink. Alcohol is OK when enjoyed in moderation, but when it starts to become a regular, chronic habit it can lead to serious health problems as seen in this study.

In small amounts, alcohol (especially red wine) is thought to reduce the risk of heart attacks due to the benefits of antioxidants (hence, the red wine). But this is no excuse to drink large amounts – antioxidants can be obtained from many fruits, vegies and supplements. At the end of it all, alcohol is a poison that damages a variety of bodily processes, and it is a significant contributing factor to many injuries, hospital admission and deaths every year (think liver failure, neurological damage, paralysis, cancer and gastrointestinal problems).

Heart disease is the number one killer worldwide, responsible for around 18 million deaths worldwide every year. If you have a genetic predisposition for heart disease (ie. if it runs in the family), you should do all you can to avoid it. The good news? You can help prevent it with a few simple modifications and choices.

The easy way to prevent alcohol-related heart disease? Cut down the grog. 21 and 14 drinks may sound like a lot, but this equals 2 or 3 drinks a day. Many of us drink this much without thinking twice. Save drinking for weekends and special occasions. It’s fine to have a drink on a Saturday night, but avoid drinking during the week. Stop the habit early to avoid a whole range of health problems. Drink water instead. Keep yourself busy. Go for a walk. Do whatever you need to do to avoid picking up a beer or pouring a glass of wine.

What else can I do?

Quit smoking immediately.

Smoking is a huge contributing cause of heart disease and stroke. It is responsible for millions of deaths every year. The good news is that when you quit, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year, and no matter how long or how much you smoked, your body will start repairing itself as soon as you quit.

Get moving.

Regular, moderately vigorous exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. When you combine exercise with a healthy diet and weight maintenance, it can have a phenomenal effect on your overall health and wellbeing – boosting your ‘happy hormones’, reducing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even diabetes risk.
Find out how much you should be exercising with our Stretching and Exercise guide.

Support your heart with good nutrition.

Eating a diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats, fish and some dairy will not only prevent illness and disease – you’ll feel a lot better for it too. Limit ‘bad’ food (think butter, vegetable oil) and junk foods (fast foods, processed foods, confectionary). Not only will these foods contribute to weight gain, they promote an inflammatory state in the body, which is the ideal precursory state for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Eating healthily doesn’t have to be difficult, and it’s never too late. Start by reading our ‘Health Promoting Nutrition article for an easy-to-follow guide on what to feed your family for good health and disease prevention.

Use fish oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against hard arteries and lower your blood pressure. They are also a great natural anti-inflammatory, boost concentration and support skin and hair health. Don’t just settle on the cheapest fish oil you can find – you need the correct ratios and potency to benefit from supplementation. We stock the best fish oils in Australia. Click here to find out more about The Best Fish Oils.

Take a multivitamin everyday.

A great multivitamin helps to ‘fill in the gaps in your diet’, and recent research has shown that long-term regular use of a multi may reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 16%. Add on the benefits of a healthy diet, omega-3 supplementation and regular exercise, and you are well on your way to preventing a potentially fatal disease.

Invest in some CoQ10.

Co-Enzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring compound that is vital for energy production. As we age, or use statin medications, CoQ10 is depleted from the body, leading to poor energy production, lowered immune health and free radical damage – factors known to contribute to heart disease occurrence. CoQ10 is now much more affordable than ever before.

Further Reading: