Alcohol & Heart Health

Alcohol & Heart Health
By Amy Stack, RN

You've heard the message everywhere: moderate alcohol use is "good for you". Alcohol advertisers show pictures of healthy, happy people drinking wine, beer, or even a Wisconsin staple, the Old Fashioned. But is alcohol really good for you? Is it good for your heart?   

Many of us look forward to a glass of wine with friends, or a beer during the Packers game. Alcohol, however, can have health consequences that are worth better understanding. Today, we can explore the unintended impact on health that comes from alcohol use. With this knowledge, you can make good choices about how and when to consume alcohol.   

According to the National Institute of Health, an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, cancer, suicide and accidents.   

So how does alcohol impact heart health?   

Weight: Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, making it more calorie dense than many of the foods we eat. Our brains don't register liquid calories as making us feel "full", so when drinking alcohol, it's easy to get more calories than our bodies need. In addition, alcohol relaxes inhibitions and leads people to make food choices they otherwise might avoid. The result is weight gain, which can put extra pressure on our hearts and blood vessels, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.   

Blood Pressure: A single alcohol binge (more than three drinks in one sitting) can raise blood pressure temporarily. Consistent, daily drinking leads to increased risk of chronically high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease.   

Triglycerides: Alcohol use can increase triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that store unused calories and can be used as energy. High triglycerides can contribute to hardening or thickening of artery walls, increasing risk for heart disease. Alcohol use-- whether a binge or daily drinking-- can increase triglyceride levels significantly.   

So should we drink alcohol?   

While traditional guidelines advise that moderate alcohol use (one drink a day for women, 2 drinks for men) is considered safe, recent research indicates there is truly NO safe level of alcohol consumption. We're better off choosing non-alcoholic drinks (that aren't loaded with sugar). If you choose to drink alcohol, be sure to limit drinks to no more than one per day for women, or two per day for men. Choose drinks lower in calories and sugar, and avoid sweet mixers. If you have concerns about your alcohol intake, be sure to talk with your doctor. And take advantage of some fun recipes for non-alcoholic drinks whenever possible!

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