A common belief until recently was that moderate drinking is beneficial for the heart. The idea that sparked this belief is the French Paradox — the notion that there’s a connection between the low rates of heart disease among French people and their penchant for drinking red wine.¹ The truth about drinking and heart health, however, is much more complex and requires a closer look.
The French Paradox and Its Consequences
In the 1980s, French epidemiologists correlated low rates of heart disease and high levels of fat consumption among the people of France. They pointed to their tendency to drink red wine as the reason for this disparity. Studies conducted worldwide on the heels of this proposal seemed to support it.²
Studies focused on the polyphenols in red wine, which include resveratrol. Resveratrol is a heart-protecting compound, so it made sense that red wine would be beneficial for the heart.
Correlation is not causation, however, and what came to light later was that the French were eating a healthier diet than other countries. The red wine they drank with that diet did not have much of a positive impact on the heart. A resveratrol study in 2014 also found no links between this compound and heart health.³
The myth surrounding drinking and heart health — having a glass of wine or one drink per day to promote heart health — still persists today. However, many now believe that alcohol in any quantity can negatively impact your heart and the rest of your body.
The Truth About Drinking and Heart Health
Alcohol affects your entire cardiovascular system. This system of blood vessels pumps blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your whole body. If you drink alcohol, it pumps that through your system, too.
When you drink even one glass of wine, your heart rate may increase, and your blood pressure may go up, which could have serious consequences.
Increased Heart Rate
Alcohol can cause variability in how the heart beats and in the time between beats. Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to tachycardia, which is an increased heart rate caused by issues with the electrical signals that create the beats.
High Blood Pressure
A single instance of drinking can increase your blood pressure, and daily consumption can lead to alcohol-induced hypertension. High blood pressure results in the thickening and hardening of the arteries, potentially increasing the chances of stroke and heart disease.
Weakened Heart Muscle
Long-term consumption of alcohol can also put you at risk of weakening the heart muscle itself. The heart contracts by using a layer of muscle called the myocardium. When there is damage to that layer, the heart’s chambers enlarge, making each contraction less efficient.
These weakened contractions do not allow the right level of blood flow. When the heart cannot consistently pump enough blood to the rest of the body, it can result in congestive heart failure.
An irregular heartbeat, called an arrhythmia, can also be a consequence of alcohol consumption. Stimulants can block signals in the heart’s electrical pathways, creating a slower or faster heartbeat than normal. Arrhythmias can cause stroke and cardiac arrest.
There are three main types of arrhythmias:
- Bradycardia, when the heart beats too slowly
- Tachycardia, when the heart beats too quickly
- Atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation can happen after just one instance of drinking. It causes the heart’s atria, or upper chambers, to quiver instead of beat.⁴ Blood does not circulate as it should, and it can result in blood clots.
Heart Attack and Stroke
High levels of alcohol consumption put your heart at even higher risk. Because alcohol can raise the fat levels in your blood, you have an increased risk of a heart attack. Alcohol can also put you at risk of strokes because it can cause clots to form and raise your blood pressure, potentially causing plaque to break off and enter the bloodstream.
Get Help to Stop Drinking
Drinking, even moderately, can have negative consequences for your heart. Despite the drinking and heart health myths out there, your heart will not benefit from even one glass of red wine.
If you want to stop drinking but find yourself struggling to do so, turning to an alcohol addiction treatment program like ours can help.
At Desert Cove Recovery, we offer outpatient treatments to help you understand your dependence on alcohol and learn the techniques you need to cope with this dependence. We treat both body and mind to help free yourself from substance use disorders.
Call us now to learn more.
Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1768013/  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S014067367992765X  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1868537  https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/atrial_fibrillation.htm