Many health authorities have long recommended a drink or two a day as being beneficial for the heart, but a new study shows that this may be a myth, a top cardiologist says.
“This study shows that alcohol can be harmful, not helpful, even in moderation,” Chauncey Crandall, M.D., tells Newsmax Health
Researchers tested the effect of alcohol consumption on 4,466 older people — with an average age of 76. They looked at the size, structure, and function of various parts of the heart using cardiac imaging techniques.
The results showed that drinking just one alcoholic beverage daily resulted in small, but damaging changes to the heart.
Such damage can increase the risk of cardiomyopathy, says Dr. Crandall, director of preventive medicine at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.
“Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes weak, can lead to heart failure,” he explains.
The study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiac Imaging, found that alcohol’s detrimental effect was greatest on women. Those who drank moderately — just one drink daily — experienced a small reduction in heart function. Men needed to drink more to show this adverse effect — two drinks a day.
“We’ve always known that heavy alcohol use damages the heart, but this study gives us evidence that damage can accrue with just one drink daily, especially in women,” says Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
“Women might be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol due to their smaller size. Their hearts are smaller.”
Although other research over the past two decades has found modest heart benefits for a drink or two a day, this is one of the few studies to look at its impact on the elderly.
Dr. Crandall says he sees the damaging effects of alcohol on his patients every day.
“Alcohol plays a role in both the presentation of cardiac disease and its symptoms, and we’re just now putting this all together,” he notes.
“In addition to cardiomyopathy, alcohol raises the risk of arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, which is a big problem in my older patients. Alcohol raises cholesterol, especially triglycerides.”
Obesity is another heart disease risk factor to which alcohol contributes.
“Historically when people stop drinking, they lose weight,” he says. “People don’t realize that alcohol is metabolized as sugar and one serving of liquor or wine can have as much sugar as a can of soda.”
The added sugar from drinking turns up as glucose in the blood, which can spark the development of diabetes.
“When I see people with newly diagnosed diabetes, I always inquire about their alcohol use,” Dr. Crandall explains. “Many people are in the habit of a glass of wine or two a night, but as they get older, their bodies can’t handle the sugar and the result can be diabetes.”
Dr. Crandall also notes that drinking raises blood pressure.
“When you add it all up, and you realize that alcohol causes car accidents and also increases the risk of many types of cancer, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why take the risk?’” he says.
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