Heart Healthy Alcohol? You Decide

White Wine PourI’m sure you know all about the the evils of alcohol: addiction, drunk driving, liver disease, high blood pressure, alcohol poisoning and so on. The strange thing is not that there are endless concerns when it comes to alcohol consumption.  The strange thing is despite the very real concerns I mentioned, alcohol might actually be good for you under certain circumstances.

Alcohol is said to be bad for your heart. People with heart disease associated with high blood pressure are usually told by their doctors to abstain completely. However, recent studies suggest that people with heart disease might benefit from drinking particular types of alcohol in particular dosages. Confusing, right?

One aspect of heart disease is known as atherosclerosis, commonly called clogging or narrowing of the arteries. It’s the cause of most heart attacks. Cholesterol is a major contributing factor in atherosclerosis. It’s a sticky, fatty substance that clings to the artery walls. This can lead to blood clots that restricts blood and thereby oxygen from flowing to the heart. That’s when a heart attack happens.

The recent studies I mentioned seem to buck conventional wisdom, it seems possible that alcohol consumption on a moderate level may decrease the chances of developing atherosclerosis and having a heart attack.

The key to this theory is again cholesterol. Because there are two kinds. The “bad” kind and the “good” kind. It seems moderate alcohol consumption can raise your level of ‘good” HDL cholesterol and possibly help prevent clotting, too. Danish medical researchers conducted a study that confirmed what we already knew, regular exercise decreased the risk of heart disease by about a third. The surprise came when they looked at the effects of alcohol.

People who were active and did not drink alcohol at all had the 30 percent drop in heart disease. “People who were active and consumed at least one alcoholic beverage a week had 50 percent fewer occurrences of heart disease than the people who exercised and drank no alcohol”. I’ll let the study explain the results in its own words:

“The [heart] benefit also applied to people who didn’t exercise: Nonactive people who drank were 30 percent less likely to develop heart disease than the nonactive people who didn’t drink. Of course, exercise alone also decreased the risk of heart disease, but exercise and drinking some alcohol produced the lowest heart-disease numbers overall.” [source: BBC].

But don’t go out and get the party started just yet. Because moderation is the key here. It boils down to this. Whatever benefits might be achieved by drinking between one and fourteen alcoholic beverage per week, they’re outweighed by the downsides of alcoholism, liver disease, obesity and as we come full circle heart disease.

Confused much? GREG