Alcohol & Heart Health - What you need to know

Sep 25, 2021

This year there has been a flurry of new scientific studies relating to the impact that alcohol has on our health. In particular, I've noticed several headlines about heart health.
Dr Kevin Cheng

After World Heart Day, I wanted to understand more about the relationship between alcohol and heart health, so I had a chat with Dr Kevin Cheng, a GP and founder of Osana. 

Can alcohol cause heart problems? 

Dr Kevin tells me that there while there have been numerous studies on the link between alcohol and heart disease the science can be easily summarised. 

"Two relationships exist," he says. "Light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with coronary artery disease, heart failure and overall cardiovascular mortality, but heavy alcohol consumption worsens heart outcomes, including hypertension (high blood pressure), arrhythmias (palpitations) and cardiomyopathy (dilated heart chambers)." 

Three happy women laughing together

However, Dr Kevin notes that while there are a lot of studies that look at these relationships some of them are problematic in proving cause and effect. "Some Liquid error (snippets/shortcode line 19): Could not find asset snippets/shortcode-studies.liquid dont exclude confounding factors (other causes) such as genetics," he adds. 

The Australian Heart Foundation (AHF) include alcohol consumption as a red flag for heart disease risk. On the flip side, AHF say that the less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. 

Despite this, Dr Keven notes that that the general public do not have a good understanding of the relationship between heart disease and alcohol.

"The general impressions by the public (and my patients) are that excess alcohol harms your thinking by 'killing brain cells' and that its detrimental to your liver," he says.  He continues: "But Liquid error (snippets/shortcode line 19): Could not find asset snippets/shortcode-alcohol's.liquid links to heart disease tend to be less understood and known." 

How to prevent women's heart disease 

A big problem, when it comes to heart disease, is that people tend to think of it as men’s health issue. This is very far from the truth - in fact, the AHF say that 22 Australian women lose their lives to heart disease every day. 

A woman eating healthy food

"My message for women would be to pay attention to heart health and get a cardiovascular risk assessment," says Dr Kevin.  "This is important given women are over- represented in the growth of drinkers in Australia, particularly during Covid lockdown." 

Of course, while alcohol consumption is a big risk factor, there are other risk factors that are worth knowing about. "These include sedentary behaviour (sitting a lot), high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, any excessive stress, concurrent disease like diabetes, obesity, poor nutrition and smoking," says Dr Kevin. 

How non-alcoholic drinks improve heart health 

You might have heard that red wine is good for your heart. But, new research from Anglia Ruskin University debunked this when they found that any potential benefits from the polyphenols in red wine were equally beneficial in non-alcoholic red wine. Good news for fans of Edenvale Shiraz

There is more good news - non-alcoholic beer wine and spirits can help reduce alcohol consumption and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. 

"Reducing alcohol and carbohydrate content will protect your heart long term through lower caloric load (less sugar) and less damage to heart muscle (less toxic damage)," adds Dr Kevin. 

If you have any concerns about your heart health please check in with your GP. 

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