Alcohol and Heart Disease

Can a few drinks really be good for your heart? Yes, but only a few, and not for everyone.

Moderate drinking -- one drink a day for women and two for men -- appears to protect some people against heart disease.

One drink is 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Alcohol may help your heart in a few ways:

  • It raises HDL or "good" cholesterol.
  • It stops blood from clotting. This can be good or bad. It may hold off heart attacks, but it could make you bleed more easily.
  • It helps prevent damage caused by high LDL, the "bad" cholesterol.

But before you break out that cocktail shaker, know this: Doctors aren’t sure if those healthy effects come from the alcohol or from other good lifestyle choices that light drinkers make. So if you don’t drink already, your heart isn’t a reason to start. A healthy diet and regular exercise provide many of the same good effects that are tied to alcohol.

To get any health benefits from alcohol, keep your drinking light or moderate. Heavy drinking can make you more likely to get serious health problems like liver disease, cancer, and peptic ulcers, among others. Regular or high alcohol use can hurt your heart and lead to diseases of the heart muscle, called cardiomyopathy. Drinking alcohol regularly also can raise your blood pressure.

Binge drinking -- four or more drinks for women and five or more for men in about 2 hours -- can cause irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias. So even if you don’t have any alcohol during the week, you shouldn’t save all of your drinking for the weekend and overdo it.

Who Shouldn’t Drink?

Alcohol can be harmful for some people who have health problems. Talk to your doctor if you have one of these conditions and aren’t sure whether you should drink:

Pregnant women and anyone with a history of alcoholism should not drink.

Some medications don’t mix well with alcohol. These usually come with a warning sticker from your pharmacy that tells you not to drink while you take them. But check with your pharmacist if you aren’t sure about your medicine.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 07, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Alcohol and Heart Disease," "Alcoholic Beverages and Cardiovascular Disease."

American College of Cardiology -- CardioSmart: "Drinking and Your Health."

Harvard School of Public Health: “Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.”

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Drinking Levels Defined.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Risks and benefits of alcohol (Beyond the Basics),” “Cardiovascular benefits and risks of moderate alcohol consumption.”

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