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Alcohol and Heart Disease

The effect of alcohol on health and heart disease is complex. For some people, even mild alcohol use carries major risks. For others, moderate alcohol use may offer a degree of protection.

Is Moderate Drinking Good for the Heart?

Moderate alcohol consumption seems to offer protection against heart disease for some people.

Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women or lighter-weight persons and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink is equal to the following: 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Specific suspected heart-related benefits of alcohol include:

  • Raises HDL, or "good" cholesterol level.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Inhibits the formation of blood clots (this can be good or bad. It may prevent heart attacks but could increase the risk of bleeding).
  • Helps prevent artery damage caused by high LDL, or "bad " cholesterol.

But, until we know more about the pros and cons of alcohol consumption, doctors do not recommend drinking alcohol specifically for better heart health.

Can Drinking Alcohol Be Harmful?

Drinking alcohol can be harmful for some people. Those who have heart failure, cardiomyopathy (abnormal heart muscle function), high blood pressure, diabetes, arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), a history of stroke, obesity, high triglycerides, or are taking medications, should speak to their doctor before drinking alcohol. Also, pregnant women and those with a history of alcoholism should not drink alcohol.

The American Heart Association cautions people to not start drinking if they do not already drink alcohol. Many of the benefits listed above can be achieved through diet and exercise. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of drinking alcohol.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on February 19, 2014
Edited by Tracy C. Shuman, MD on October 01, 2005
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