Alcohol and the Heart – Let’s Stop It In Its Tracks!
In the recent years, there has been a great surge in the quantity of alcohol consumed by people across India. With easy availability of spirits and wines not just from India but also from the Western world, partaking in this on a regular basis seems to have become the norm for many.
Many of us are aware that alcohol can damage the liver, but did you know that alcohol intake on a regular basis can damage the heart? You may be shocked to hear that alcohol contributes to the development of over 60 different diseases in our body, and heart disease is one of them.
So what are the effects of alcohol on the heart? Here we take a brief look.
The Bad Effects Of Alcohol
Studies have shown that consuming alcoholic beverages on a regular basis can increase the levels of certain kinds of fats in the body. These fats are called ‘triglycerides’.
Recent studies published in reputed cardiology journals have shown that elevated levels of triglycerides may be associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Alcohol is very high in calories, with 1 gm of alcohol providing 7 calories. Large amounts consumed regularly can increase the level of body fat, and this in turn leads to the development of obesity.
You may have seen the abdomen of people who drink alcohol – they tend to be quite large and are often called ‘beer bellies’. The problem with having an increased amount of body fat (especially around the waist) is that it can increase the chances of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.
People who drink alcohol also tend to smoke and this only further increases the risk of heart problems.
Alcohol can also weaken the heart muscle. This condition is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
In this condition, the heart muscle is unable to pump blood effectively to the various vital organs and muscles, leading to organ failure and extreme weakness. Breathlessness and swelling in the legs are common symptoms.
Patients who develop alcoholic cardiomyopathy require many medications to support their heart. Their outcome is poor and the survival rate is low, especially if the person does not quit alcohol.
Alcohol can also increase the heart rate, and can make the heart beat rather erratically. The erratic heartbeat tends to be irregular, and is usually in a rhythm that is called atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation that begins after heavy intake of alcohol is sometimes called ‘holiday heart syndrome’, as it is often seen in people who binge drink when on holiday. Atrial fibrillation can lead to weakening of the heart muscle if left untreated.
Finally, alcohol can increase the risk of developing a stroke. The risk factors for stroke are the same as heart disease, and include high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. All these 3 are seen in individuals who drink regularly.
Is There A Bright Side?
As a matter of fact there is. Consuming alcohol in moderation can have certain benefits on the heart, and this has mostly been seen with red wine. Red wine has antioxidants, flavonoids and a compound called resveratrol in it that can protect the heart from the development of heart disease. However, these benefits can only be seen in individuals over 45 years who drink only one drink a day (around 2 units).
What Can I Do?
If you really wish to partake in alcohol, then make sure you do so in moderation. Of course, avoidance is the best strategy, but if you like to drink regularly, then do your best to make sure you have at least 2 ‘alcohol free’ days a week.
Just bear in mind that 10 ml of spirits is one unit and one glass of beer is around 3 units. Keep a tab of what you drink, and you can keep your heart healthy and enjoy life as well!
My recommendation – Avoid it as much as you can!
Dr Vivek Baliga is a medical practitioner and the director of a diagnostic center – Baliga Diagnostics – in Bangalore. He specializes in diabetes and heart disease, and is a visiting consultant in Internal Medicine at corporate hospitals. He is married and has one son.