Ways Alcohol Affects Your Heart

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There’s a popular belief that alcohol — especially red wine — is good for the heart. Other ethanol-induced changes may be related to enzymes that modulate protein synthesis and/or breakdown (e.g., ubiquitine-ligases). Several reports suggest that ethanol-induced decreases in myocardial protein synthesis may be mediated in part by decreased activity of an enzyme called mammalian (or mechanistic) target of rapamycin (mTOR) (Lang and Korzick 2014; Vary and Deiter 2005; Vary et al. 2008). MTOR regulates cell growth, proliferation, motility, and survival; protein synthesis; and transcription (Donohue 2009).

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between production of free radicals and the body’s ability to detoxify or fight off their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants. Various studies with animals and humans indicate that ethanol can increase the development of reactive oxygen species (ROS), leading to increases in redox-signaling pathways and decreases in protective antioxidant levels. Alcohol also can increase levels of co-enzymes or reducing equivalents (e.g., reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate [NADPH]), which lead to increases in ROS formation and decreases in eNOS activity (Ceron et al. 2014). Several excellent reviews offer more detailed assessments of vascular cellular mechanisms (Cahill and Redmond 2012; Husain et al. 2014; Marchi et al. 2014; Toda and Ayajiki 2010). Several reports indicate that alcohol first exerts a seemingly positive effect, followed by a more negative impact (i.e., it is biphasic) on the endothelial–nitric oxide–generating system. Endothelial dysfunction is an early indicator of blood vessel damage and atherosclerosis, as well as a strong prognostic factor for future CV events (Deanfield et al. 2007; Ras et al. 2013).

  1. One common risk factor for CV disease is the composition of the lipids found in the blood, and the effects of alcohol consumption on lipid profiles have been extensively studied.
  2. “Women feel they’re protected against heart disease until they’re older, but this study shows that even when you’re young or middle aged, if you are a heavy alcohol user or binge drink, you are at risk for coronary heart disease,” Rana said.
  3. Although past studies have shown some heart benefits of moderate drinking, research hasn’t shown a definitive link between alcohol and better heart health.

More than one cellular event may be happening at the same time, and, as with other chronic health conditions, the relevant mechanisms may be synergistic and interrelated. Researchers have found evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction or impaired bioenergetics related to alcohol consumption. This is not surprising, because mitochondria are a major target for free-radical injury. Dysfunctional mitochondria are less efficient, can become a source of ROS, and are more likely to initiate apoptosis (Marzetti et al. 2013). Figure 3 summarizes the potential mechanisms underlying the cardioprotective and adverse effects of alcohol consumption. One or more mechanisms may be in effect and/or may cancel out another.

Low-to-moderate levels of alcohol consumption may initially improve endothelial function, whereas high daily levels and binge drinking may impair it. A single drink had little effect on blood pressure, but when people consumed two drinks, they experienced a slight dip in their blood pressure levels in the hours that followed. When they had more than two drinks, however, they saw their blood pressure levels fall at first and then begin to climb, eventually becoming slightly elevated about 13 hours after they drank. Prolonged alcohol consumption on a daily basis can sometimes lead to atrial fibrillation, where the heart beats abnormally fast and out of rhythm, even under resting conditions. Researchers have found a strong correlation between drinking—even one to three drinks a day—and the development of atrial fibrillation. Any alcohol consumption beyond three glasses a day raises the risk even more, with studies suggesting an 8% increase in risk for every additional drink you consume.

The proportion of cardiomyopathy cases attributable to alcohol abuse has ranged from 23 to 40 percent (Piano and Phillips 2014). Recently, Guzzo-Merello and colleagues (2015) reported that, among 282 patients with a dilated cardiomyopathy phenotype, 33 percent had ACM. However, some reports indicate that alcohol-dependent women alcohol definition formula and facts develop ACM after consuming less alcohol over a shorter period than do age-matched alcohol-dependent men (Fernández-Solà et al. 1997; Urbano-Marquez et al. 1989). Whether it’s a glass of red wine with your turkey or toasting champagne for the new year, alcohol definitely becomes more present during the holiday season.

Drinking alcohol makes your heart race

The condition is estimated to affect 12.1 million people in the United States by 2030. Studies have linked higher alcohol consumption how long does it take to detox from alcohol timeline and more to an increased risk of AFib. Common symptoms can include heart palpitations, fatigue, or even chest pain after drinking alcohol.

More on Atrial Fibrillation

This area of research was briefly outlined here; more comprehensive reviews on these mechanisms are available (Krenz and Korthuis 2012; Mathews et al. 2015). The lack of consistent data means that the takeaway message here is moderation — and the importance of avoiding excessive and binge drinking. “When it comes to heart disease, the number one thing that comes to mind is smoking, and we do not think about alcohol as one of the vital signs,” Rana said.

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Extended unhealthy alcohol use can weaken and distort the heart muscle, causing a condition called cardiomyopathy. This condition is characterized by when the heart loses its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body properly. This often results in a disruption of regular heart rhythm, known as arrhythmias. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure, though less severe symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, and bloating.

Is drinking a glass of wine per day a heart-healthy habit?

For a lot of people on long-term medications, alcohol can make the drug less effective. Those who drink regularly and consume more than the lower risk guidelines are likely to be advised to cut down or stop drinking completely. If you drink regularly, you might feel like alcohol doesn’t affect you as much, but this usually means you’ve developed a tolerance to some of the effects.

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