February was American Heart Month! Nationally during this time, healthcare professionals focused on raising awareness of the importance of heart health and educating the public on risk, diet, exercise, disease, and more topics related to cardiovascular well-being.
Today on the blog we’re discussing the distressing effects of alcohol on our bodies, particularly our hearts.
It’s obvious that alcohol consumption is common; data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that in 2019, 85.6% of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their life, while 69.5% reported that they drank in the past year and 54.9% reported that they drank in the past month.
However, alcohol abuse is also common; 25,8% of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and 6.3% reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month. 14.1 million adults in 2019 struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), or addiction.
One of the goals of American Heart Month is to educate people on what is healthy and unhealthy for their hearts, and abusing alcohol or consuming it in large quantities/too frequently is definitively unhealthy. The amount of people who think alcohol is harmless as long as you don’t drink and drive would probably decrease significantly if they all knew the very real medical risks.
Here are 5 things that you (and every American) should know about how alcohol negatively affects your heart health!
1. Alcohol increases your blood pressure
Blood pressure is a measure of how forcefully your blood pushes against the blood vessel walls. High blood pressure (or hypertension) has numerous dangerous effects; it can harden and thicken arteries, result in chest pains, cause aneurysms, lead to heart attacks or strokes, cause kidney failure, damage your retina and eye nerves, lead to erectile dysfunction, result in memory loss, and more. Drinking alcohol even on a single occasion can temporarily increase your blood pressure, and drinking excessively can cause a more permanent state of high blood pressure (a condition known as alcohol-related hypertension).
2. Alcohol can lead to heart attacks & strokes.
Your heart muscle needs blood and oxygen to pump and function properly. When this oxygen is cut off or reduced, a heart attack can result. Plaque, fat, and cholesterol are all things that can build up over time and block the flow, and alcohol consumption has been shown to raise levels of fat and bad cholesterol in the blood.
In a similar way, your brain also needs blood and oxygen to function. When alcohol-related plaque, fat, or cholesterol disrupts the flow to your brain, that can cause a stroke, which can result in a loss of motor and sensory functions as well as damage other systems in the body (or be fatal, as a heart attack can be as well).
3. The risk of alcohol-related heart disease is higher for women than men
Because men’s bodies metabolize (break down and remove) alcohol faster, women’s bodies absorb more alcohol and reach higher blood alcohol concentrations. Women have less body water than men, and their body structures and basic chemistry are different (women also weigh less than men on average, but it is about more than just weight). If you are a woman, you have a lower tolerance for alcohol. Women are proven to be more susceptible to heart disease than men.
4. Alcohol weakens your heart.
The anatomy of the heart is complex, but your heart has four chambers. If you engage in heavy alcohol consumption such as binge drinking or drinking more than the “safe” amount (which is no more than 100 grams of alcohol per week, or about seven standard glasses of wine or beer per week), it can lead to cardiomyopathy, a heart condition which weakens the heart muscle and causes these four chambers to enlarge. This in turn makes the heart’s contractions weaker, and makes it harder for healthy blood circulation to occur. If the case of cardiomyopathy is severe, or prolonged, it can lead to congestive heart failure – the heart will not pump enough for the body’s needs.
5. Red wine isn’t actually proven to be good for your heart.
Many people believe that a glass of red wine is actually considered beneficial for your heart, but that’s not exactly true – it’s a popular myth, with no medical proof. No research has established a clear cause-and-effect link between drinking alcohol and better heart health.
The main reason that this is a popular expectation is known as the French Paradox. Historically, there have been relatively low rates of heart disease among the French, even though they consume cheese and other rich, fatty foods. Research into this conundrum showed that beneficial plant compounds known as polyphenols (including resveratrol) are found in red and purple grape skins as well as other fruits, veggies, and nuts. However, people who take resveratrol supplements experience zero proven benefits in terms of heart health. The Mediterranean diet (think colorful Greek food), which is shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, also includes red wine, but there is no direct correlation. The cardiovascular risks of alcohol consumption or heavy alcohol consumption far outweigh any benefits, which have not yet been proven.
Better Tomorrow Treatment Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, is committed to joining the fight for better heart health for all Americans. We specialize in alcohol addiction recovery, and our programs are some of the top in the nation – you can learn more about our supportive housing, process, staff, and center on our website. If you are struggling with an alcohol addiction, the consequences for your heart health, your relational health, and your mental health are serious, but there is hope for healing and freedom! Call us today for free to discover if our inpatient recovery programs are a good fit for you or your loved one at +1-561-286-4765.