4 Facts You Should Know About How Alcohol Affects Your Heart

A cardiologist shares insights on the health impact of imbibing

4 Facts You Should Know About How Alcohol Affects Your Heart

Many people know that drinking alcohol too often or to excess is not a good idea, health-wise. But there are other things you should know about alcohol and the impact it can have your heart.

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We chatted with cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, to learn more. Here is what she had to say.

Fact: The health risks of drinking alcohol can vary widely from person to person.

Certain health conditions can make drinking alcohol more dangerous, Dr. Cho says.

For example, some people who are on cholesterol-lowering medicines may experience muscle aches when they drink alcohol.

Because alcohol and cholesterol medicine both are processed through the liver, they are, in a sense, competing with each other for clearance. So it’s important to think about your overall health and talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors.

“Alcohol is made out of sugar,” Dr. Cho says. “So if you are predisposed to being diabetic or if high triglycerides is one of your issues, it’s not a good idea to drink alcohol.”

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Dr. Cho warns that if you have liver dysfunction or take other medicines that are processed through the liver, your risks might be different. Talk to your health care provider about how alcohol might interact with your prescription medicines.

Fact: Red wine is a better choice than hard liquor. But avoiding alcohol is best.

There’s some evidence that drinking the occasional glass of red wine may be good for your heart either by preventing heart disease or lowering your risk of heart disease.

But it’s not a good idea to start drinking alcohol in an effort to lower your risk of heart disease, Dr. Cho says.

“It’s better not to drink any alcohol at all,” she says.

Fact: Age plays a factor in how well you tolerate alcohol.

Many people have the ability to develop a tolerance to alcohol over time, but this ability doesn’t last forever, Dr. Cho says.

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If you’ve built up tolerance to alcohol, you can probably consume more than someone who is just starting to drink. However, this changes as you age, she says.

“As we get older, our ability to clear alcohol definitely decreases and our sensitivity to alcohol probably increases,” Dr. Cho says. “Also as we get older, we end up having more diseases, so we could be on medicines that can interfere with the way our bodies metabolize alcohol.”

Fact: Overindulging in alcohol can result in an irregular heartbeat.

While alcohol in moderation is all right for most people,  it’s important to be aware you can fall victim to holiday heart syndrome if you overdo it. This is when overeating and overindulging in alcohol leads to an irregular heartbeat.

Holiday heart can happen if you don’t typically drink alcohol, but then have a few at a holiday party or you binge-drink and then develop an irregular heartbeat, called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation increases your risk of strokeheart attack and heart failure.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.