Heavy Drinking May Raise Cardiovascular Risk by Aging the Arteries

Alcohol abuse may increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiac problems even in people who don’t have a family history of heart disease or other known risk factors, a study suggests. After accounting for established risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, obesity, and diabetes, alcohol abuse was associated with a 40-percent higher risk of heart attack, the study found. Excessive drinking (consistent, long- term, heavy intake) defined as more than 14 units of alcohol each week, was also tied to a two-fold greater risk of atrial fibrillation, or an irregular rapid heartbeat, and a 2.3-fold increased risk of congestive heart failure, a chronic pumping disorder. Even though previous research has linked an occasional or even daily drink to better heart health, these current findings should put to rest any notion that drinking more is better for our health, said senior study author Dr. Gregory Marcus of the University of California, San Francisco.

Source: Whitman IR, et al. Alcohol abuse and cardiac disease. J Am Coll Cardiol 2017;69(1). DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2016.10.048.

Moderate Drinking Can Lower Risk of Heart Attack

Moderate drinking can lower the risk of several heart conditions, according to a study that will further fuel the debate about the health implications of alcohol consumption. The study of 1.93 million people in the UK aged over 30 found that drinking in moderation— defined as consuming no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for women and 21 units for men (though other sources say unit guidelines are now the same for both men and women at 14 units per week)—had a protective effect on the heart compared with not drinking. Previous studies have suggested that alcohol has a positive effect on the levels of good cholesterol in the blood and proteins associated with blood clotting. The research, published in the British Medical Journal, found that moderate drinkers were less likely than non-drinkers to turn up at their doctor with angina, heart attack, heart failure, ischemic stroke, circulation problems caused by a build-up of fat in the arteries and aortic aneurysm than non-drinkers. But the research found that heavy drinking—more than 14 units for women and 21 units for men—increased the risk of heart failure, cardiac arrest, ischemic stroke and circulation problems caused by fatty arteries. The authors of the study, from the University of Cambridge and University College London, welcomed the findings but cautioned: “While we found that moderate drinkers were less likely to initially present with several cardiovascular diseases than non-drinkers, it could be argued that it would be unwise to encourage individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their risk.

Source: Bell S, et al.Association between clinically recorded alcohol consumption and initial presentation of 12 cardiovascular diseases: population based cohort study using linked health records. Br Med J. 2017; doi:10.1136/bmj.j909

What is a Unit of Alcohol?

One unit of alchohol is 10 milliliters (or about 1/3 of an ounce) of pure alcohol. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes, units are a way to tell how strong your drink is. The alcoholic content in similar types of drinks varies a lot. Some ales are 3.5% alcohol. But stronger continental lagers can be 5% or even 6% alcohol by volume (ABV). Same goes for wine where the ABV of stronger “new world” wines from South America, South Africa, and Australia can exceed 14% ABV, compared to the 13% ABV average of European wines. This means that just one pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine can contain more than three units of alcohol. Here are a few examples of what 14 units of alcohol would look like:

  • 6 pints of 4% ABV beer
  • 6 glasses (6oz per glass) of 13% ABV wine
  • 14 shots (0.8 oz per shot) of 40% ABV vodka

If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days.

Source: Drinkaware.co.uk site. Alcohol unit guidelines. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic- drinks-units/latest-uk-alcohol-unit-guidance/. Accessed 1 May 2017.

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