Alcohol And Heart Health
Alcohol is the second most abused substance after tobacco, and while it is legal and readily available that does not mean it is not harmful. In fact, it is directly related not only to addiction, but also to traffic fatalities, abuse, violence, including serious health complications such as cirrhosis and liver failure, permanent brain damage, infertility, impotence and many vehicular deaths throughout the world each year.
They say that moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as reducing your risk of ischemic stroke, or developing and dying from heart disease, even reducing your risk of diabetes. The evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn’t certain even for healthy light to moderate drinkers. Indeed, the possible benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
According to the U.S Dietary Guidelines for America, alcohol should be consumed in moderation, that is up to one drink per day for adult women and two drinks per day for adult men. It additionally makes it clear that individuals should not drink alcohol or consume it excessively on the basis of potential health benefits. But who does this relate to and do you know what type of a drinker you are and most importantly, do you have pre-existing risk factors for heart disease?
Bear in mind that even moderate alcohol use isn’t necessarily risk-free even for light drinkers as it increases the risk factors for diseases such as some cancers, such as esophageal cancer.
If there has to be a debate about how much people should drink at one particular time, shouldn’t there a be a discussion encouraging drinkers to quit and non-drinkers never to take alcohol? Alcohol consumption has been there for over 10,000 years, and the debate about its merits and demerits still simmers on today. Drinking is a major cause of preventable deaths in many parts of the world and whether alcohol is good for you or bad for you depends on a few factors, for example:
While there isn’t a single gene responsible for alcoholism, individuals who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism can inherit alcoholic tendencies. Additionally, certain environmental and social factors such as abuse, violence, alcohol accessibility, peer pressure, work-related stress may amplify the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Did you know that certain mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia also increases the risk of alcohol dependence by 20%? Do any of the abovementioned factors apply to you, whether you are a moderate, heavy or non-drinker?
Benefits of alcohol, really?
So far, more studies continue to show that drinking alcohol in moderation (about 1 or 2 drinks per day, depending on the drink) can be good for the heart and circulatory system, even protect against type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and gallstones. But before you stock up your refrigerator consider this; the main psychoactive ingredient in alcoholic beverages is a simple molecule called ethanol, which affects the body in many different ways including altering your mood, concentration, and coordination.
The pleasurable effects of alcohol are undeniable because it makes social drinkers feel more relaxed, confident, happy but for others not so much. While some people can drink in moderation and stop when they’ve had enough, others keep drinking and the more they do, over time their bodies become damaged. Heavy drinking can take a toll on the body and increase blood pressure, disrupt sleep and damage heart muscle.
If you are a drinker, chances are you have experienced disrupted sleep patterns. There are individuals who use alcohol as a sleep aid but did you know that even moderate drinking is much more likely to interfere with your sleep than to assist it? Regardless of your age, weight, smoking and exercise habits, lack of adequate sleep puts you at higher risk for heart disease, coronary heart disease and causes disturbances to processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation.
Studies have found that as far as health and immunity are concerned, not getting enough sleep can increase a person’s risk of dying from heart disease or stroke by 100%. Even low to moderate drinking has been shown to reduce the restorative quality of sleep and impair sleep quality. While no human being is known to have died from staying awake, it is possible that given enough time, sleep deprivation can kill you.
Light to moderate drinking has been shown to raise “good” HDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol are associated with a lower risk of heart disease because it picks up excess saturated fat in your blood and transports it to the liver where it’s broken down and expelled from your body. Drinking too much alcohol coupled with smoking can cause weight gain, consequently, might increase your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
The long-term force of the blood against your artery walls as a result of drinking eventually increases your risk of serious health problems, such as shortness of breath or nosebleeds including damage to blood vessels, heart attack, and stroke. When hypertension goes untreated, it can damage your body, in fact, most people with uncontrolled high blood pressure die of ischemic heart disease related to poor blood flow, while another third either die of a stroke or wind up with a disability, or poor quality of life.
Drinking too much alcohol (more than five drinks in one sitting) raises your blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Binge drinking, in particular, can lead to long-term increases. High blood pressure can also affect other areas of the body and result in health problems as:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) especially in women
- Cognitive impairment such as memory loss or progressive loss of consciousness
- Loss of kidney function
- Damage to your body’s main artery
- Impaired pumping of the heart, leading to fluid buildup in the lungs resulting in pulmonary edema
- Fatal pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or eclampsia
Another factor to always remember is that that alcohol contains calories and may contribute to what is known as obesity-induced hypertension. While alcohol-related weight gain is mostly seen in heavy drinkers, particularly men, it can target all age groups. Simply put, alcohol is an energy-dense food, which, while it’s poor in nutrient content (empty calories) it promotes weight gain by giving you surplus calories, which in turn, promotes appetite, increases impulsive eating behaviors such as binge eating and alters fat distribution in the body.
This, in turn, leads to subcutaneous fat deposits in the abdominal area of the body known as visceral fat. Because this fat is close to many vital organs such as the pancreas, liver, and intestines, it increases the risk of for certain health complications such as type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, etc.
Not every heavy drinker gains weight or becomes obese. In fact, some people who abuse alcohol do not eat, and even when they do, the meals have no nutritional value. When alcohol begins to replace meals, especially with people who engage in episodes of problematic drinking, it disrupts proper nutritional intake and consequently, depletes all vital vitamins and minerals in the body. Alcohol dependence also negatively affects normal digestion and metabolism, decreases the effectiveness of the immune system, and damages internal organs.
As a result, alcohol-induced malnutrition occurs and consequently, causes the body to lose weight rapidly with dangerous health consequences such as brain damage, including damage to the intestinal tract, which impairs the body’s ability to utilize and absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from foods consumed. Additionally, irritation to the digestive tract as a result of alcohol use causes stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which further depletes the body of nutrients.
Severe alcohol-induced weight loss has long-term, even irreversible health effects such as:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of liver, throat, mouth, esophagus cancer
- Loss of muscle mass and muscle weakness
- Depression and mood disorders
- Internal organ damage
- Memory loss
- Type II diabetes
- Cognitive impairment
- Extreme malnutrition
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-induced weight loss severely affects the body’s ability to function properly and heal itself. When more than one alcoholic beverage is consumed on a regular basis, it starts to trick the stomach into feeling that it is full, therefore less food and nutrients are consumed. Consequently, this increases the stomach acids and results in a condition known as dyspepsia, which is characterized by chronic vomiting or upset stomach.
Excessive alcohol consumption also causes liver inflammation, and when this happens, the liver is unable to secrete toxins and begins to shut down, which leads to signs of liver disease such as fatigue, jaundice, severe weight loss, and as a result, the body gets emaciated and tries to shut down. Is drinking really worth it?
Do you have a drinking problem?
Alcohol can be a positive force in many people’s lives, however, it can make it easy to forget its ill effects, especially if you are using it as a “crutch.” Drinking alcohol for its mood-altering effects are a normative behavior that has been around for thousands of years, it only becomes a problem when it crosses the thin line between social drinking to problem drinking or alcohol dependence. You could have a drinking problem if some or all the following warning signs apply to you.
- You drink more than you intended or are unable to stop once you start
- You drink secretively or lie about how much you drink to make it seem like less of an issue
- You obsess about drinking
- You drink to ease negative feelings or use alcohol as an emotional crutch
- You feel depressed, anxious, ashamed, angry, violent, after drinking
- You black out or have no recollection of what happened
- You have unsuccessfully tried to cut back or quit numerous times
- You have built-up tolerance; therefore, you need to drink more than you did before in order to get drunk
- You are always hangover and experience withdrawals symptoms such as shakiness or trembling, lack of sleep, and loss of appetite
- Your drinking is causing problems with those close to you
- You are having problems at work, school or with your personal responsibilities because of your drinking
- You are drinking when you shouldn’t such as drinking while on medication, drinking before work, drinking first thing in the morning
- You start isolating yourself and drink alone
- You have gotten into legal troubles as a result of drinking
- You spend money you don’t have and, consequently, have financial troubles
- You have made risky decisions such as having unprotected sex with a stranger
- Your health is deteriorating as a result of drinking
You may not experience all of the above warning signs, but always remember that even light to moderate drinking has the capability to turn into alcoholism over time. If you feel that this may be where you are heading, it’s important to seek help before it gets worse.
Take care of your heart
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol consumption, be it light, moderate or heavy, contributes to more than 200 different types of disease and alcohol-related harms. The most effective way to avoid the long-term effects of alcohol on your body is to either cut down on your alcohol consumption or not drink at all. Drinking is especially harmful to women who are trying to conceive, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Additionally, alcohol can have detrimental effects on people with certain health conditions such as:
- A history of heart failure or cardiomyopathy
- Irregular heart rhythm
- High triglycerides
- A history of stroke
It’s important also to mention that individuals on certain medications, drinking even a small amount alcohol can trigger problems ranging from nausea and headaches to life-threatening issues, such as internal bleeding, difficulty breathing even death. There are over 100 drugs even herbal remedies that can interact with wine, beer, champagne, and hard liquor. Therefore, it’s important to abstain from drinking while on medication.
Your heart is in your hands
If you must drink, it’s important to monitor your alcohol consumption as part of a healthy diet. While light to moderate is better for your body than heavy drinking or binge drinking, you can take charge of your heart health in order to embark on a healthy lifestyle. Overcoming an addiction to alcohol is the first step, which, granted may seem impossible, but no matter how heavy you are drinking or how powerless you feel at the moment, recovery and abstinence are 100% possible once you admit your ambivalence about quitting.
If your goal is to reduce your drinking, you need to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol by being aware of when, where, how much, and how fast you drink.
You also need to address they “why?” part. Why do you drink too much? Are you stressed? Do you have a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, Bipolar, etc.? What are you ready to do about it? Remember that while drinking does have a temporary positive impact on your mood, in the long term it will cause big problems for your mental health and you may be starting a vicious cycle.
Always be aware of why you’re drinking and instead of masking your worries with alcohol, talk to someone about them. You can also use exercise, relaxation and breathing techniques to tackle stress or when you feel anxious instead of drinking to make a bad feeling go away.
Get plenty of sleep
Excessive drinking disrupts your sleep cycle and affects the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. It may help you fall into deep sleep quicker, but it drastically reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is thought to be restorative and any disruptions in this stage of sleep can leave you feeling fatigued, drowsy and interfere with your overall concentration the next day no matter how long you stay in bed. Additionally, Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid through sweat too, consequently, you are forced to get up in the night to use the bathroom, which in essence, dehydrates you. Sleep is important for a healthy heart if you must, try to avoid it too close to bedtime in order to give your body time to process the alcohol. Doing this will help you get a few hours of sleep.
Excessive alcohol consumption impairs the body’s ability to process and metabolize certain nutrients, therefore, it is imperative to start feeding your body with a balanced diet that will help to bring it back into normal functioning. You will notice that once you cut down or quit drinking, you will experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, anxiety, depression.
These symptoms will lessen in severity within a few days, but they may make it difficult for you to eat solid foods, especially if you are dehydrated. Hearty soups that contain plenty of vegetables and lean sources of protein, such as, beans, poultry, or fish will give your body the nutritional support it needs especially, within 24 and 72 hours of coming off alcohol.
If you find it difficult to keep food down, you can drink ginger tea as it eases nausea including fresh fruit and vegetable juices or smoothies as you might have sugar cravings. Also, years of alcohol use leaves your body undernourished, therefore, in addition to eating a balanced diet, you should consult a doctor about taking supplements that will slowly start to replenish your body and boost your immunity such as thiamin, folic acid, vitamin B12, C.
Alcohol affects your body in many ways and consequently, causes those deep in the throws of addiction to neglect important aspects of their life such as physical activity. Exercise in chemical dependency treatment serves many purposes, and in addition to repairing the psychological damage of alcohol abuse, physical activity releases endorphins which create a natural high. This “high” has been proven to alleviate both physical and psychological stress, and it’s one of the most effective ways of getting rid of any pent-up emotions you have kept bottled in. Remember all those nights you kept tossing and turning wishing for even ten seconds of uninterrupted sleep? Well, dedicated physical activity fosters improved sleep, reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, boosts greater energy, and enhanced feelings of well-being.
Drinking alters your brain to release a chemical your brain associates with rewarding behaviors known as dopamine. The same reward chemical is released when you work out, which means you can get the same “buzz” only with far better outcomes for your health. Additionally, replacing drinking with exercise occupies your time and your mind and may actually help to lessen cravings and consequently, help you to achieve long-term sobriety. No matter what your current fitness level is, getting some type of physical activity at least two times per week will not only keep your heart healthy, but it will, in the long run, help you kick your alcohol addiction and stay sober for good.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which leaves you extremely dehydrated. The importance of being adequately hydrated cannot be understated because water flushes the body of toxins. Severe dehydration can lead to a host of life-threatening issues such as kidney failure including damage to the central nervous system, a weakened immune system, and heart failure. Aim to drink at least eight glasses or more of water every day. If drinking water isn’t your “cup of tea” you can consume foods that are high in water content such as watermelon, oranges, pineapple, cantaloupe, etc. Such foods will both hydrate and nourish your body simultaneously.
Positive thinking can have a tremendous impact on both your physical and emotional well-being in recovery and provides endless benefits such as increased self-efficacy, reduced stress, reduced depression, improved physical well-being and much more. So, surround yourself with positive people because genuine happiness and positivity are contagious. Go out of your way to serve others and practice acceptance, self-awareness, gratitude, and learn to love yourself again.