Alcohol Effects on the Heart

Discover how the benefits and negative effects alcohol has on the heart.See how an alcohol treatment program provides the help needed to achieve sobriety.

Alcohol Can Benefit or Damage the Heart

In recent years, there has been a great deal of media attention given to the benefits of modest alcohol consumption for the heart. This has brought some solace to those individuals who enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage. While it is good to know that alcohol is not all bad, it is not recommended that people begin drinking with the intention of improving their cardiovascular health. There are better ways that they can get the same results that involve fewer potentially harmful effects. Alcohol can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the heart. If people drink to excess, they can incur a great deal of damage to this vital organ.

Description and Function of the Heart

The simplest way to describe the heart is to say it is a pump that makes blood flow around the body. It is slightly bigger than a human fist and usually weighs between 7 and 15 ounces. The human heart will beat more than two and a half billion times over the course of a lifetime. This means that it needs to put up with plenty of wear and tear during that time.

The heart is made up of four chambers and has its own electrical system that coordinates its ability to pump. This organ is able to send blood to every part of the body. To do this, it uses network of blood vessels. If these were laid end-to-end, they would stretch to about 60,000 miles in length. When talking about the heart and its blood vessels it is common to use the term cardiovascular system. The human heart is essential for survival. It is common to associate death with the cessation of the heart beat. However, medically speaking, this is not exactly the case.

Problems of the Heart

There are a number of things that can go wrong with the heart. These are the most common of these conditions:

* A heart attack is when a blood clot or other blockage prevents blood getting to the heart muscle. If any part of the muscle is deprived of oxygen, it will die. If too much of the heart muscle is destroyed, it will no longer be able to function properly. This is also known as a myocardial infarction (MI).
* Angina is a type of pain that people feel because they are not getting enough blood in the heart muscle. People with the condition may experience angina when they are doing physical work or experiencing too much stress.
* Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque that makes the arteries narrower so that blood is unable to move smoothly. This plaque buildup is caused by cholesterol.
* Coronary artery disease will usually include angina and people will be at risk of experiencing a heart attack. It occurs because of atherosclerosis and a loss of elasticity in the artery walls.

Benefits of Alcohol on the Heart

Some research suggests that a moderate amount of alcohol may be beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Consuming two drinks per day may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 50 percent. It is believed that red wine in particular might be the most beneficial to health. These are the main benefits alcohol has on the heart:

* Several studies indicate that moderate consumption of alcohol may be of benefit to the heart One way that this occurs is by increasing good cholesterol and reducing plaque deposits in the arteries.
* Alcohol can work as an anti-coagulant. This means that it thins the blood so that platelets are less likely to form into clots, which can cause heart attacks.
* Alcohol seems to reduce coronary artery spasm during times of stress.
* Alcohol can reduce blood insulin levels and increase estrogen levels.
* Alcohol increases coronary blood flow.

While modest consumption of alcohol may benefit the heart, there are other ways of getting the exact same benefits. If people eat the right things and engage in regular exercise, there will be no real benefit to the heart from drinking alcohol. Those who drink excessively will not only fail to benefit their cardiovascular health, but they can also do serious damage to it. Some people can even suffer negative consequences from mild consumption of alcohol.

The Negative Effects of Alcohol on the Heart

Those who regularly drink an excessive amount of alcohol risk damaging their cardiovascular system. It is believed that as much as 2 percent of the cases of coronary heart disease may relate to excessive drinking. These are some of the negative effects of alcohol on the heart:

* Long-term abuse of alcohol can cause [alcoholic cardiomyopathy]. This is where the alcohol has a toxic affect on the heart muscle, causing it to become damaged. In some cases, this damage will lead to heart failure and death.
* Excessive alcohol intake can cause high blood pressure (hypertension), and this puts extra strain on the heart as well as other body organs.
* Drinking too much also increases the amount of fat circulating around in the blood stream. It raises the triglyceride level.
* It increases the risk of developing diabetes, which can then impact cardiovascular health.
* People who drink too much increase their risk of experiencing a cardiovascular accident (stroke). It is suggested that as much as 5 percent of CVAs may be due to excessive alcohol intake. Drinking too much can triple the risk of people suffering a stroke.

Other Dangers Related to Excessive Alcohol Intake

Excessive alcohol intake does not only lead to heart damage. It can also lead to other health dangers. The following are common alcohol-related health hazards:

* Alcoholic liver disease is the most well-known of all the conditions related to this form of substance abuse. An individual does not need to be abusing alcohol for long before they enter the early stages of this condition. Once people have developed cirrhosis, it will not be possible for the body to heal the damage to the liver.
* Long-term alcohol is usually associated with poor nutrition. This means that people can develop alcoholic dementia (Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome or nerve damage.
* Excessive drinking can lead to mental health problems such as depression.
* Alcohol abuse can increase the likelihood of developing diabetes.
* Alcohol abuse can cause pancreatitis.
* Alcohol abuse can increase the risk of developing certain cancers including liver cancer.
* Excessive alcohol consumption can lead directly to alcoholism. This is a terrible condition that can rob the individual of everything they hold dear.
* It increases the risk of being injured in an accident or being a victim of violent crime.

How to Avoid the Damaging Effects of Alcohol on the Heart

If people wish to avoid the damaging effects of alcohol on the heart, they should keep the following in mind:

* Only drink at the recommended safe limits for alcohol intake. This is one drink per day for adult women and two drinks per day for adult men. Those who are over 65 years of age should limit their intake to one drink per day. People under the age of 21 should not touch alcohol at all. In this case, a drink is classified as a standard beer, a standard glass of wine or a single shot of spirits.
* If people have ever had a problem with alcohol, it is not advisable that they begin drinking again. If these individuals were previously physically or psychologically dependent, they are likely to find themselves back in the midst of their addiction.
* If people have high blood pressure they need to be very careful around alcohol. It is advisable that they abstain until their blood pressure is under control. They should speak to their doctor for advice in this regard.
* The key to cardiovascular health is a good diet and regular exercise.
* If people find that they are unable to drink moderately, they should avoid alcohol completely. If giving up alone is too difficult they should seek professional advice.