When it comes to your heart, it’s important to get the facts about alcohol straight: Yes, alcohol can potentially reduce your risk of heart disease, but it can also increase your risk of heart problems. Here, the pros and cons:
The best-known positive effect of alcohol is a small boost in HDL (good) cholesterol. But studies also show that drinking alcohol—particularly red wine—seems to lower the risk for heart disease in some populations. Researchers suggest that certain components of red wine, such as flavonoids and antioxidants, play the greatest role in reducing risk. Experts also believe that a substance found in red wine called resveratrol may prevent platelets in the blood from sticking together. While studies are preliminary, the findings suggest that resveratrol reduces clot formation and reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats (triglycerides) in your blood. It can also raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart failure and stroke. Alcohol contains a lot of calories, and increased calorie intake can cause weight gain, which in turn can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes. Other alcohol-related heart conditions include cardiomyopathy (a serious disease in which the heart becomes inflamed and doesn’t work as well as it should), cardiac arrhythmia (a group of conditions marked by abnormal electrical activity in the heart) and sudden cardiac death.
If you do drink, do so in moderation. This means an average of one to two drinks a day for men and no more than one a day for women. (A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits). There are plenty of nonalcoholic ways to get the same heart-healthy advantages you get from alcohol. So, if you don’t drink, don’t start just for the potential heart benefits.