Is Red Wine Really Heart Healthy?
We've all heard that wine is good for your heart. We've all heard wine and alcohol are bad for your heart. Confused over this seemingly contradictory information? You’re not alone. Over the last decade research, reported in reputable science journals, has found both to be true—the difference comes down to what kind of alcohol, how much, how often, and your general state of health.
While there are some proven benefits of drinking alcohol, there are more reasons why your heart will likely be healthier if you don’t drink, or if you follow the American Heart Association’s guidance of consuming no more than one alcoholic drink a day for women and two for men. One drink is defined as:
- 5 ounces of wine (preferably red)
- 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
Why Alcohol May be Good for Your Heart
A body of research has found that alcohol, particularly a glass of red wine a day, can be good for your blood pumper and might even lower the risk of dying from heart disease in some people. Studies have found that red wine and other alcohol in moderation might help prevent potential heart damage caused by ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and help slightly raise your level of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL). But medical science has also shown that alcohol thins the blood and therefore can keep blood from clotting.
Current research is digging deeper into how wine specifically can help the heart, focusing on the role of antioxidants and resveratrol, a polyphenol compound—a category of chemicals found in plants, fruit and vegetables, and wine (from grapes). Resveratrol is believed to act similarly to antioxidants in preventing damage to the body that can potentially increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions.
Others in the medical arena are trying to determine cause and effect, and speculate that it could be that people who drink wine are typically in higher income brackets, have higher levels of education, understand the benefits and have more access to healthy foods.
However, this doesn’t mean you should drink wine or other alcoholic drinks every day. Because the medical jury is still out as to whether the alcohol is providing the benefit, or if it’s the healthier lifestyle of exercising and eating healthy foods that most people who don’t drink or drink in moderation tend to also follow.
Cardiovascular Risks Associated with Drinking Alcohol
While there are some heart-health pros to alcohol, there are some serious cons. For instance, drinking too much alcohol can increase triglycerides (fats in the blood that can cause LDL levels and cholesterol to increase), and lead to a variety of cardiovascular issues, including:
- High blood pressure
- Atrial fibrillation (an irregular or quivering heartbeat)
- Cardiac arrhythmia (a breakdown in the electric impulses that enable your heart to beat that can slow you heartbeat or make it beat too fast)
- Cardiomyopathy (a disease that causes enlargement of the heart’s muscles that can make them thicken or become rigid)
- Congestive heart failure (when your heart becomes too weak to pump blood due to high blood pressure or narrowing arteries)
- Sudden death from a heart attack or other cardiac event or infarction that causes sudden reduced supply of blood to the heart
The Bottom Line on the Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
If you already suffer from any of the above heart conditions or have a family history of heart disease or stroke, your cardiologist and physician will advise you to limit or even avoid consuming alcohol. You will also be told to stop drinking alcohol if you’re taking medications that can lead to potentially serious, even life-threatening, risks when mixed with even a small amount of alcohol.
Have questions about alcohol and your heart health? Talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to help you prevent and control cardiovascular disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »