I’m not a regular drinker, nor a teetotaler. But like many people, I enjoy the occasional glass of wine with dinner, and nothing tastes better than an ice-cold beer on a sweaty summer day. Besides, some alcohol is a toast to my long-term heart health. At least that’s what the science says, right? Not really. When it comes to alcohol and heart health, the existing research is quite conflicting — some studies say alcohol improves heart health, while others imply the opposite.
Alcohol and heart health: What’s the real story?
The problem with most alcohol-related research is that it consists almost entirely of observational studies that only show an association, according to Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, a preventive cardiologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Division of Aging and VA Boston.
So far, the strongest evidence with heart health has shown that alcohol can increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. HDL works to keep LDL (bad) cholesterol from clogging your arteries by moving it to the liver, where it’s broken down and removed from the body. Many studies have found that the combination of high HDL and low LDL levels protects against heart attacks and stroke. “However, this is not the most important factor in preventing heart disease, and there are other ways to increase HDL than drinking alcohol, such as regular exercise,” says Dr. Gaziano.
Quantity is a key factor when it comes to alcohol and heart health
While moderate amounts of alcohol can offer some heart benefits, too much can have damaging effects.
For instance, the more alcohol you drink at one time, the higher your heart rate gets, according to research from the European Society of Cardiology. A sudden spike in heart rate is potentially dangerous to people with heart conditions, as it could trigger arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
A study in the April 14, 2018, issue of The Lancet looked at the drinking habits of almost 600,000 people without heart disease, and found that people who had 10 or more drinks per week died one to two years earlier compared with those who drank five drinks or fewer per week. Having 18 drinks or more per week cut life expectancy by four to five years.
Focus on moderation
The lack of consistent data means that the takeaway message here is moderation — and the importance of avoiding excessive and binge drinking.
How much is considered moderate? A safe amount is no more than a drink per day, says Dr. Gaziano. “In terms of heart health, there does not appear to be more benefit beyond one daily drink.”
Of course, alcohol content can vary with the type and size of drink. In the United States, a standard drink is approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which equates to any one of these:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
- 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
To get a more accurate analysis of your drink in terms of alcohol content per serving size, use this drink calculator from the National Institutes of Health.
One type of drink isn’t better than another, as your body reacts to
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Colossians 2:19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
1 Peter 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,
Romans 8:13-14 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Ephesians 4:22-24 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Colossians 3:5-10 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. read more.
Hebrews 6:1-2 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
Hebrews 5:11-14 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. read more.
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