Is alcohol good for your heart?

Drinking alcohol in moderation may help protect against heart disease. Adults who consume one to two alcoholic beverages a day appear to have a lower risk of coronary artery disease. And it doesn’t appear to matter whether you drink wine, beer or liquor. 

But moderation is key. Consuming more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men increases the risk for high blood pressure, stroke, some types of cancer and dependence on alcohol.
  • One drink is 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • Check with your doctor before drinking alcohol. Some medications can interact with alcohol. And some individuals with specific medical conditions should not drink at all.
If you don’t currently drink alcohol, it is not recommended to begin drinking alcohol for health benefits alone, since there are many other health risks due to drinking alcohol.
We learn the evils of alcohol at an early age. They include drunken driving, addiction, cirrhosis of the liver, high blood pressure, alcohol poisoning, and so on.

The strange thing is that alcohol might actually be good for you, under certain circumstances.

Recent evidence suggests that people may reduce their risk of heart disease by drinking particular types of alcohol, in particular amounts.
Moderate alcohol use appears to reduce the death rate from coronary artery disease and heart attack. Moderate alcohol use is defined as no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. A drink consists of a 12-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. If you are a non-drinker however you should not start drinking solely to benefit your heart. You can guard against heart disease by exercising and eating a low fat diet. If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, have been diagnosed as alcoholic or have another medical condition that could make alcohol use harmful, you should not drink. If you can safely drink alcohol and you chose to drink, do so in moderation. Heavy drinking can actually increase the risk of congestive heart failure, stroke, and high blood pressure, as well as cause many other medical problems such as cirrhosis of the liver.
Enthusiasm over the heart-health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that heavy drinking poses significant health risks -- among them, elevated blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm and a dramatically increased likelihood of stroke. In fact, Harvard researchers found that men who consume an average of three or more alcoholic beverages a day were nearly 43 percent more likely to suffer a stroke compared with abstainers and men who had one to two drinks a day.

Until recently, many researchers have attributed the potential health benefits -- an increase in HDL, decrease in blood pressure and lower risk of death by cardiovascular disease -- to ethanol, the intoxicating agent in alcoholic beverages. But findings suggest that other compounds -- polyphenols, B vitamins, resveratrol, and nonalcoholic by-products of fermentation -- might play a more significant role. A small German study in the May 2004 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research reported that alcohol-free beer had the same cardiovascular benefits on 12 healthy male volunteers as alcoholic beer does -- and without the risks. Excessive alcohol consumption actually increases the risk of thrombosis, or blood vessel clotting, and the nonalcoholic beer caused a significant decrease in clot creation. In addition, a 2004 Boston University study found that Concord grape juice increased HDL and significantly lowered two markers for inflammation, just as wine has been shown to do. French researchers have found that Concord grape juice helps relax cells lining the blood vessels in animal lab cultures as well. And when German researchers compared the relative bioavailability of anthocyanins in red grape juice to that in red wine, they found that the urine of grape-juice drinkers had 28percent higher anthocyanin levels than that of red wine drinkers. In addition, antioxidant activity was higher -- and remained so -- in the blood of the grape-juice drinkers than in that of the wine drinkers.

Every year, 780,000 Americans suffer a stroke, and for more than 150,000 of them, it’s fatal. A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the arteries and blood vessels that carry oxygen to the brain. A healthy diet that promotes vascular health can help lower your risk of having a stroke. For example, according to a 2004 report from the University of Oslo in Norway, eating two to three kiwis a day can significantly lower the risk for blood clots and reduce blood lipids.
Imran K. Niazi, MD
Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology
There is evidence that consumption of small quantities of alcohol on a regular basis can reduce the risk of a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends the equivalent of one 4 oz glass of wine for women and two glasses for men daily.

There is some controversy about whether it is the alcohol or other chemicals in red wine that exert a protective effect. Some studies suggest that the alcohol is protective, but most experts believe that the benefit is due to the presence of a class of protective chemicals called bioflavonoids in red wine. These bioflavonoids are not present in white wine or beer, but are found in red grape juice. The alcohol content of red wine is thought to enhance the absorption of the protective bioflavonoids, which is why red wine is better than red grape juice.

It is important to realize that if one glass is good, three glasses are not better for heart health! The beneficial effects appear to be lost once consumption exceeds about 8 oz of red wine per day.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The incidence of heart disease is lower in people who drink moderately than in nondrinkers. One confirmed benefit of drinking alcohol is a small increase in the level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Alcohol also inhibits the formation of blots clots that can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

But before you uncork that bottle of Merlot, know this: Drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, and increased calorie intake (which can, in turn, lead to obesity and an increased risk for diabetes). So although there may be health benefits for people who drink in moderation, no one is calling for nondrinkers to start imbibing in the name of heart health. And remember, if you do drink, moderation means no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
Research shows having one drink a day may help protect your heart health and your entire vascular system. Enjoying a moderate amount of alcohol also seems to raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (good) cholesterol. In addition, it helps you to wind down, so your blood pressure can wind down, too. Although wine itself doesn't contain omega-3 fatty acids, research suggests that a bit of wine -- not too much, not too little -- somehow boosts blood levels of these heart-healthy fatty acids.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.