Alcohol use has been linked to problems in the cardiovascular system not only in the heart, itself, but in other areas that help the heart function properly. Excessive alcohol use is listed as one of the medical conditions that contribute to heart disease, along with diabetes, obesity and other issues. Heart attack is the leading cause of death and stroke is the fifth most common cause. Alcohol abuse adds risk to both of these conditions and others.
How alcohol abuse damages the heart
Just over 70% of Americans eighteen years of age or older drink alcohol during a year according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH studies also revealed that 56% may drink during a given month. Some of the results of alcohol abuse are visible and obvious. These can include reduced inhibitions, problems with memory and slurred speech. The severity may accelerate to violent behavior and lack of judgement that could result in car accidents, death to the drinker or others or even suicide.
What excessive alcohol abuse does over a period of time to the body may not be as evident. In addition to the liver, pancreas and brain, the cardiovascular system is directly affected by the overuse of alcohol. For example, excess alcohol intake can result in a rise in triglycerides. Triglycerides are fats distributed throughout the body. A buildup of these fats, along with a high LDL cholesterol level, is dangerous.
Cardiomyopathy, which refers to several types of diseases related to the heart muscle, may result from either long-term alcohol use or short term abuse, such as binge drinking. Cardiomyopathy causes the heart to become enlarged and for healthy heart tissue to be replaced with scar tissue. The heart becomes weaker and must work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. This can result in heart failure.
Stroke is another risk increased by heavy alcohol consumption. Several factors go into this particular result. Drinking too much raises blood pressure and high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major contributor to stroke. Too much alcohol also raises the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), or an irregular heart rhythm. AFib increases the risk of stroke by five times.
Alcohol, obesity and diabetes
Alcoholic drinks are high in calories. This is dangerous to the cardiovascular system in several ways. High calories contribute to diabetes and obesity, both of which increase the risk of heart failure, hypertension and stroke. Obesity raises the level of triglycerides in the blood system. Being obese also lowers HDL, often called “good cholesterol.” HDL helps keep arteries clear.
The higher blood sugar levels that are caused by diabetes result in damage to blood vessels and nerves. Additionally, many with diabetes suffer from conditions that also increase risk of cardiovascular problems. In addition to hypertension, high cholesterol levels contribute to both diabetes and stroke.
Recommended alcohol use
According to national health standards, one alcoholic drink is defined as twelve ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor or one ounce of 100 proof spirits. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) moderation is the key regarding alcohol consumption and heart health. AHA recommends that if a person drinks, alcohol intake for men should be no more than one to two drinks per day and one drink per day for women.
Because of alcohol’s impact on the amount of calories consumed by an individual, AHA suggests that alcohol consumption be reported to a physician or cardiologist during routine checkups. This helps in developing a better overall cardiovascular health plan.
To learn more about the impact of drinking on the cardiovascular system, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.