Drinking and Heart Health
“Nah, nah, honey I’m good.
I could have another but I probably should not
I got somebody at home
And if I stay I might not leave alone”
Andy Grammer’s popular song “Honey I’m Good” is a prime example of having a good time while being smart about it. All things in moderation – especially when it comes to drinking. Not only does excess alcohol intake impair your judgement and lead to bad decision making – it can have an adverse effect on your heart as well. Moderate drinking (1 drink a day for women, 2 for men), however, can actually have a positive impact on your cardiovascular system. New research presented by the American Heart Association at their 2016 Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle Scientific Sessions supports on-going claims alcohol helps boost HDL (good cholesterol), lowers blood pressure, stops blood from clotting (lowering stroke risk as well), and helping to prevent damage to arteries by “bad” cholesterol. The caveat is for the first few hours after it is consumed, alcohol actually increases your risk for cardiac events and stroke, but 24 hours after consumption, it has preventative qualities. Heavy drinking (more than 15 drinks a week for men, 8 for women), on the other hand, is associated with higher heart attack and stroke risks overall. (Unsure of the difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest? Read more here.)
In the 80’s there was a lot of talk of the “French Paradox”. On the whole, people living in France have a relatively lower incidence of cardiac disease than Americans, despite a diet typically heavy in saturated fats. This lead to numerous studies to support the hypothesis speculating the main difference was a higher consumption of wine, specifically red wine, among the French. So is a glass of red wine with every meal the answer? Probably not. Our typical American “quick fix” mentality would love to grab on to this little tidbit of information and put back a glass of wine with our greasy burgers and fries and pat ourselves on the back for doing something “healthy”. The truth is a little more complex and involves significant overall lifestyle differences.
Yes, the French have diets rich in butter, cream, and decadent cheeses, not to mention the pastries and desserts. But they also eat significantly more whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables, they walk and bike more often, take smaller portions, eat slower and cook more of their meals themselves – usually choosing fresh ingredients over heavily-processed foods. So while the wine probably has some benefits, their lifestyle is just healthier overall.
Common sense needs to prevail. If you drink moderately, you aren’t hurting your heart and may be helping it somewhat. If you don’t drink at all, choosing a healthy lifestyle involving better food choices and exercise is a much wiser choice than starting to drink. If you do drink, always make smart choices – don’t drink and drive, operate heavy machinery, or drink if you are pregnant or nursing. And it is always a smart choice to talk to your doctor about your options to control your risks for heart disease and stroke.