Myth vs fact: Alcohol’s effects on the heart
While drinking can be a socially acceptable part of our lives, lifestyle changes and challenges resulting from the pandemic including working from home, kids stuck at home, lack of routine, boredom, and increased uncertainty about the future may have you reaching for a glass of wine or mixed beverage more frequently than before.
The truth is you aren’t alone. Nielsen reports alcohol sales in stores were up 54% in late March compared to that time last year, while online sales were up nearly 500% in late April. According to a Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults conducted in early April, 16% of all adults said they were drinking more during the pandemic, with higher rates among younger adults: One in four millennials and nearly one in five Gen Xers said they had upped their alcohol intake.
Unwinding with a glass of wine or a “quarantini” might seem like a good way to cope with stress. But for some people, too much alcohol is making the ongoing health crisis worse, especially those with existing heart conditions or family histories of heart illness.
Below are the truths behind five myths related to alcohol and heart health.
Myth: Moderate drinking is acceptable and is good for the heart.
Fact: This isn’t true for everyone, especially if you have underlying health issues. Your risks could be higher than any benefits. The American Heart Association reports that studies that show alcohol raises HDL, or “good” cholesterol and lowering the risk of dangerous blood clots show no direct link between alcohol itself and lower risk. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, not smoking and coping with stress can provide more heart healthy benefits and have almost no risk.
Myth: Red wine will help prevent heart disease.
Fact: We’ve all heard about scientific evidence linking red wine and heart health. Red wine has compounds that might lower the risk of heart disease, but so do grapes. Those studies also don’t take into consideration other health habits individuals have to reduce their overall risk. It might be that moderate red wine drinkers are more likely to have a healthier diet and lifestyle.
Myth: Moderate drinking is acceptable.
Fact: That depends on your definition of moderate. All alcoholic drinks have different numbers of calories and different amounts of alcohol. The American Heart Association defines moderate drinking as no more than two drinks per day for men, and one for women. The serving size is important. One serving is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
Drinking more than that can lead to serious health problems, including:
• Heart failure
• Heart rhythm problems
• Heart muscle disease
• Higher triglycerides
• High blood pressure
• Liver disease
Myth: Drinking heavily once a week is not a health concern.
Fact: If you drink to excess once a week, or binge drink, it puts you at a higher risk for certain heart conditions. Binge drinking — having five or more drinks in two hours for men or four or more drinks for women — can cause atrial fibrillation, an irregular or quivering heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and, heart failure. Plus, all the extra calories can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes.
Myth: Alcohol is an acceptable way to relax and deal with stress
Fact: Drinking alcohol may seem like a convenient way to cope with stress, but there are many other healthier strategies. Staying physically active, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a positive attitude are some good ways to manage stress. Instead of reaching for the bottle of wine, try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. You can also take this extra time to start a new hobby or find pleasure in something you enjoy that doesn’t include drinking alcohol.
Alcohol, in moderation, can be included in a healthy lifestyle, but avoid binge drinking or drinking to excess. One type of drink isn’t better than another, as your body reacts to alcohol the same whether it’s from beer, wine, or spirits, so it’s important to know what’s in your drink and how it will affect your body.
If you have questions about your drinking habits or concerns with how alcohol may be affecting your health and well-being, seek prompt professional help. You can talk to your health care provider or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990.
Raymond Resnick, MD, is a cardiologist with UPMC. He sees patients at Cardiology at UPMC Williamsport, 740 High St., Suite 2001, Williamsport, and UPMC’s Medical Plaza at Mansfield, 416 South Main St., Mansfield. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 570-321-2800.