Your heart is a vitally important part of your body. Although really nothing more than a pump, it uses blood to carry all the vital materials your body needs to function and stay alive. If your heart ever stopped pumping, your muscles and brain wouldn't be able to get the glucose and oxygen they need to survive, and you would die within minutes.
Anything that gets in the way of the heart's ability to deliver blood to the body is collectively known as cardiovascular disease, the most frequent cause of death for people in the United States. Sometimes, people will justify their drinking by pointing to studies showing alcohol is good for your heart.
What they may not realize is that long term, heavy drinking gravely increases your risk of developing heart problems, and that the potential benefits are more limited than they may believe. Here is the truth about how consuming alcohol can affect this vitally important organ.
There have been studies showing small amounts of alcohol, red wine especially, can prevent artery damage and blood clots, either of which can clog blood vessels and make it harder for the heart to operate. The exact cause of this benefit is unclear, but may have something to do with an increase of HDL or "good cholesterol" in the blood.
However, this effect is only seen in adults 45 years old and older, and only when the drinking occurs within very low levels. Furthermore, it is not the best way to prevent heart disease. Reducing the level of stress in your life, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats are all more effective ways of treating your heart well. No study has recommended anyone start drinking just to have a healthier heart.
Harms of heavy drinking
While small amounts of alcohol may have some benefit to prevent heart disease, at high levels it has exactly the opposite effect. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that people who do choose to drink not exceed more than 3-4 drinks in a single day or 7-14 drinks per week.
Those who exceed those limits, whether in a single session or without alcohol free days can find themselves at serious risk of developing high blood pressure. Alcohol puts a strain on the heart, causing it to have to work harder to pump blood around the body, which increases the risk of the heart or blood vessels weakening, putting you at greater risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Heavy drinking also raises the level of fats in the blood, which can clog up arteries and put you at further risk of a heart attack. Many alcoholic beverages are also very calorie heavy and so can lead to unhealthy weight gain and diabetes, both of which harm the heart's ability to function.
More drinking, more risk
Binge drinking, or having 4 or more drinks in two hours to get a blood alcohol concentration level 0.08 percent or higher, can easily become life threatening in a variety of ways. One of them is popularly called "Holiday Heart Syndrome," or an irregular heartbeat caused by consuming high amounts of alcohol very quickly.
While your heart normally beats at a consistent pace, alcohol may short circuit the heart's electrical system, increase the level of fatty acid and stress hormones, causing it to flutter unpredictably. At best, this will feel like a sense of breathlessness and severe pain in the center of your chest. At worse, it could be deadly.
There are many reasons why drinking heavily can be very harmful, and the risk of heart failure is just one of them. If you are worried about your health from drinking too much, do not hesitate to reach out for help. It could save your life.