Cardiovascular Disease and Alcohol

What is heart disease?

Heart disease refers to conditions associated with the heart and blood vessels, organs   responsible for carrying oxygen, nutrients and other substances within the body, as well as waste and carbon dioxide. Heart disease includes a range of conditions that cause the blood vessels in the body to reduce in size or become obstructed. It also includes conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart. 

Heart attacks and strokes arr ts that occurring due to heart disease, on account of improper functioning of the heart and blood vessels. This can be caused by a variety of factors and lifestyle choices including genetics, age, gender, diet, activity, smoking, al,ohol consumption, and other comorbidities or pre existing health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and more. According to the World Health Organisation, heart disease is the leading cause of death across the world, with roughly 17.9 million deaths in 2019, accounting for  32% of all the deaths. 85% of these were caused due to heart attacks and strokes.

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is classified as a drug. It affects the brain and nerves in the body, causing the improper functioning of these systems. This leads to physical symptoms such as feeling light headed, dizzy, nausea, behavioural changes of different extents, exaggerated response, loss of balance, and any function that involves the brain and nervous system. 

The brain is responsible for a majority of body functions, both internal and external. 

While small amounts on occasion might not be as harmful, binge drinking, or continuous consumption of alcohol over a certain amount of time can contribute to the risk of developing heart disease. It can also increase the risk and severity of other conditions such as addiction, mental health problems, cancer, liver failure and more. As of 2018, alcohol causes roughly 3 million deaths a year across the world, according to the World Health Organisation 

Alcohol and the heart: how alcohol can damage the cardiovascular system 

The heart is a vital organ withinpart of the human body. Along with blood vessels, it forms the cardiovascular system. This system is important as it pumps blood throughout the body. Blood is a transport medium. It transports nutrients, oxygen and other key materials for the cells to function. When chemicals and drugs are consumed, such as alcohol, they pass through the blood. Since nutrients are absorbed from the blood, other substances, such as alcohol, are also absorbed by the cells in the body, mainly in the stomach and intestine. It is first absorbed by these organs, due to their location in the digestive tract or system. Since the alcohol is absorbed by the body, it affects different organ systems. 

Research has shown that the immediate effects of alcohol consumption on the cardiovascular system include temporarily elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Long term or binge drinking  also significantly impairs the cardiovascular system, with a permanently increased heart rate, blood pressure, weak heart muscles, muscle death, cell death and irregular heart beats. These functional impairments add to the risk of developing heart disease, heart attacks (alcohol-induced) and strokes. 

Does Excessive Drinking Contribute to Heart Disease?

Alcohol consumption, even in low to moderate amounts, has its disadvantages. Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking as well as any amount of alcohol consumed by pregnant women or individuals  under the legal drinking age (minors). Even consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol frequently constitutes excessive alcohol consumption, and  significantly contributes to heart disease, amongst a range of conditions. 

Evidence-based research suggests that alcohol is linked to atrial fibrillation, a condition marked by increased, irregular heartbeats. According to researchers, atrial fibrillation causes a four to five-fold increase in the risk of for suffering a stroke and triples the risk of for undergoing heart failure. Research also shows the direct link between excessive/prolonged alcohol consumption and heart failure. Heart failure can cause sudden death amongst other problems. 

There is also evidence suggesting that alcohol directly increases the risk of stroke. Light to moderate drinking is associated with ischemic strokes, whilst heavy consumption is associated with a higher risk for all types of strokes

These specific events all contribute to, or are a part of heart disease and its effects. According to scientific studies, alcohol increases the level of cholesterol and triglycerides i.e. unhealthy fats. This contributes to heart disease significantly. 

This is mainly because unhealthy fats can deposit in the form of ‘plaque’ within the blood vessels. This can cause the blood vessels to become narrow, lead to an obstruction or blockage and cause reduced blood flow to vital areas within the body. This is a characteristic feature of heart diseases, as discussed before.

Can binge drinking make your heart beat irregularly?

Research has shown that low to moderate amounts of alcohol can also lead to irregular heartbeats. Irregular heart beats raise blood pressure and can increase the risk of developing blood clots and therefore stroke, in addition to heart attack and other heart related diseases. This shows how alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking or consuming large amounts of alcohol in a relatively short amount of time, is very harmful.  

Long term heavy drinking can lead to heart disease

Long term heavy drinking is explained by the CDC as the consumption of more than eight drinks per week for people assigned female at birth (AFAB) , and more than fifteen drinks per week for people assigned male a birth (AMAB) . This translates to about fourteen grams of pure alcohol. 

Long term heavy drinking is associated with the occurrence of a range of chronic (long term) health conditions. Research suggests that it can lead to cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, addiction, dementia, depressive disorders, anxiety and other mental health disorders, in addition to cardiovascular or heart disease. Research expresses the direct link between alcohol consumption and ischemic heart disease (IHD). Ischemic is referred to as the lack of or reduced supply of oxygen to an organ within the body, and in this case the heart. This can present physically in people AMAB  as a myocar (heart attack)  heart attack  and  (chest pain)is (chest pain) n people AFAB . The only difference between the two is that a myocardial infarction is more painful and severe. 

Research also shows that long term heavy drinking can cau(increased blood pressure). blood pressure. This can be due to the build up of fats from alcohol, which deposit within the blood vessels. These build ups lead to the narrowing of blood vessels or blockages. Since blood flow is restricted and the amount of blood in the body is unaffected (alcohol does not affect this), blood pressure will increase. Not only does hypertension aff,t the brain, eyes, kidneys, liver and more,; but it also increases the risk of fatal heart conditions like strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, kidney disease, artery disease and vasca form ia (a form type of dementia). 

Studies show that long term heavy drinking is additionally linked to the occurrence of cardiomyopathy, which is the enlargement of the heart muscle. In this condition, the heart changes its shape due to consistent, gradual damage over a period of time. This causes the heart muscles to stretch. Excessive long term stretching of these muscles can weaken them. Weak heart muscles lead to problems in the cardiovascular system and even death. It is therefore extremely vital to understand the risks associated with alcohol consumption of any amount. 

How to protect your heart 

The heart is a vital too.in the body., Without a functioning heart, it would not be possible for our bodies to work properly . Fortunately, taking care of the heart does not require a specific, intense plan. 

A few, healthy changes can actually make all the difference that is needed. To begin with, mindfulness is key. 

Mindfulness and wellbeing include self care practises, healing and meditation. These practises helps build the mindset necessary to makepositive  lifestyle changes. Although,lifestyle changesones may can  require strong will power, mindfulness can fill this gap. 

Once in the right mindset, these practicses can prevent provide protection from mood disorders to a certain extent. These disorders can pull you back to a sedentary, inactive lifestyle marred by unhealthy lifestyle choices. 

Stress is a key contributor to heart disease. Therefore, being mindful will also help you assess and handle stress. Additionally, if you prefer to seek professional help, mental health advisors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical professionals can assist you in accessing the required facilities and/or treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), counselling, rehabilitation programmes and more.

Eating a healthy balanced diet is another key factor in protecting your heart. Research shows that red meat, unprocessed foods, high sugar content edibles (sweets, candy, soft drinks, juices), high salt intake, and high calorie meals can contribute to heart disease. When  food items break down in the body they are converted to fats. These fats deposit within the arteries, causing reduced blood flow and subsequently reduce circulation of nutrients, mainly oxygen. A reduced amount of oxygen within the body is a cause for concern as it can cause a range of health problems, as well as lead to death. 

Research also shows the benefits of incorporating plant based diets and alternatives such as plant-based proteins such as tofu, soy and pea protein, instead of meat, olive oil, vegan meals and more. These foods contain similar nutrients and supplements, without the harmful elements that can be found in unhealthier products. 

With diet comes exercise and a  balanced lifestyle plays a key emphasis on physical activity. Our body needs to expend energy. The food consumed is broken down in the body to produce energy. Excess energy is stored within the body in the form of fats. We are well aware of the ill effects of fat deposits within the arteries and the associated risks. 

Research indicates  that exercise can improve circulation, increase the amount of oxygen supply within the body, as well as release hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemicals that are associated with the feeling of happiness a fulfilment. An imbalanced diet, coupled with irregular physical activity, contributes to a range of disorders, mainly obesity and diabetes, in addition to heart disease. Healthy lifestyle choices also include limiting your alcohol intake.

This article should provide you with enough information to understand the risks of alcohol consumption, in order to make informed decisions about your future. Additionally, smoking cessation is a significantly helpful tool in protecting the heart. 

Smoking, like alcohol, reduces the amount of oxygen supply within the body, via its chemicals, that block and narrow the blood vessels. It is scientifically evident that smoking is associated with a double to quadruple (four fold) increase in heart disease and an increased risk of sudden death. There are a variety of tools available to combat nicotine addictions, a primary block to quitting smoking. These include the use of nicotine gums, patches, hypnotherapy, cognitivcounsellinglingcounseling. 

To sum up, leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle can not only protect your heart, but also help you lead a fuller and more expressive life.

Takeaway Points

This article aims to supply readers  with the basics of the relationship between alcohol and  health, mainly heart disease. The key points below should provide a clear summary of the article: 

  • Alcohol is a drug that can numb the nervous system and affects balance, coordination, sensory, motor and other brain-body functions. 
  • Alcohol is a significant contributor to deaths worldwide, as stated by WHO
  • Alcohol has many, far-reaching, fatal, long term and short term risks.
  • Heart disease refers to a range of conditions marked by the narrowing of blood vessels, obstructions or blocks in the blood vessels, changes in the structure of the heart and its muscles, changes in the functions of the cardiovascular system due to degeneration, harm or injury.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of global deaths, as stated by WHO 
  • A characteristic of heart disease is a reduced supply of oxygen within the body
  • Reduced oxygen in the body can lead to loss of cells and their function, organ malfunction, organ death, heart attack, angina pectoris and stroke. 
  • Alcohol can increase the risk of developing a range of heart related disorders due to its multifunctional mechanisms.
  • Alcohol contributes to the rise in fats and cholesterol in the body that can deposit in the form of plaques or obstructions within the blood vessels, thus reducing blood flow.
  • Reducing your alcohol intake can significantly improve your health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • In order to completely protect your heart,,you should adopt u should adopt a healthy balanced lifestyle, marked by balanced meals, exercise, and mindfulness practises. 

FAQs

Is the red wine supposed to be healthy?

Red wine is known for its antioxidant content. These components can help the body combat sageinggeingaging, however, red wine is still alcohol. This antioxidant content can be taken in from a range of alternative foods such as broccoli, spinach, carrots, beetroot, kale, radish, lettuce, sweet potato, and more. The  alcohol consumption, even in low and moderate amounts, can be risky. It is therefore advisable to keep a check on your alcohol intake.

Aren't there some benefits to drinking alcohol?

The risks of alcohol are higher than any benefits it can provide. Research has illustrated that the alleged benefits of alcohol only apply to a certain age group of people in specific parts of the world. This mainly includes middle aged or older people in developed countries where there is a high rate of cardiovascular diseases. The benefits in question only apply to low or moderate levels of alcohol consumption. It is vital to understand the risk of alcohol consumption and the potential risk it possessed, towards us as individuals, and to society as a whole. 

I drink a small amount everyday. Is that risky?

According to the guidelines published by the UK CMO (Chief Medical Officers), both people AMAB and AFA  should ideally not consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread over a minimum of three days or more. 14 units is roughly equal to ten glasses of low strength wine or ten glasses of moderate strength beer. For more information about calculating the units of different types of alcohol, click here

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Ishana Gole

Master of Science - MS, Bioscience Entrepreneurship, UCL (University College London)
Ishana is a Biomedical Science student with a keen interest in neuroscience and past experience in online consulting, marketing and advertising.

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