When it comes to alcohol and heart health, the information can be overwhelming. On one hand, you hear that alcohol can offer some heart-healthy benefits. On the other, drinking could cause damage to your heart. What is the truth behind alcohol and your heart? The short answer is, well, both.
When it comes to alcohol consumption, especially around the holidays, the key is moderation. If you decide to drink to improve heart health, do so in very small doses. “The kind of alcohol you drink matters too,” says cardiovascular, thoracic and vascular surgeon, Jonathan Fong, M.D. from the Venice-Ocala Heart Institute.
“The possible heart benefits of alcohol primarily have to do with its effect on atherosclerosis,” explains Dr. Fong. “This condition occurs when cholesterol deposits build up in the arteries, potentially leading to a heart attack. However, alcohol – in moderation – may decrease the chances of developing this disease.”
What About Red Wine?
Red wine has been the focal point of many studies between alcohol and heart health. It has been shown to offer the same benefits as other forms of alcohol, but it has one additional ingredient that may make it slightly more heart-healthy. This component, called resveratrol, is an antioxidant that helps protect the lining of the heart’s blood vessels and comes from the grape skins used to make the wine. Because red wine is fermented with these skins longer than white wine, red wine contains more of this healthy ingredient.
“But before you pop that cork, it is important to know that you can get the same antioxidant benefits from fresh grapes or grape juice. So for those who do not currently drink alcohol, these may be a better option for getting heart-healthy resveratrol,” adds Dr. Fong
Do other types of alcohol – like white wine or beer – have the same effect?
White wine fans can raise their glass and get in on the same heart-healing benefits of wine. New research suggests the pulp of the grapes used can be just as heart-healthy as the skin.
As for beer and hard liquor, some studies suggest the folate in beer may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, a few studies have also found that cardiovascular patients who drink one beer a day live longer. And when it comes to hard liquor, a French study found it does in fact help reduce bad cholesterol, but not as much as red wine, and brings other unfavorable side effects along with it.
Moderation, Moderation, Moderation
While alcohol has shown to have some heart-healthy benefits, before enjoying a few drinks in honor of your body’s most important muscle, remember that restraint is key. “Healthy ‘doses’ of alcohol are small ones and only beneficial for some – not all – people,” says Dr. Fong. “And, these amounts differ between men and women.”
According to the American Heart Association, moderate drinking for healthy men means no more than two glasses per day, and for healthy women, no more than one glass a day. One glass of alcohol consists of:
• 12 ounces of beer
• 4 ounces of wine
• 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
• 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor
“Strictly staying within these guidelines is the only way to gain any heart-healthy rewards,” Dr. Fong says.
Remember that many other lifestyle changes have proven to be more beneficial than alcohol consumption for heart health. The same old things we’ve all heard time and again still ring true: exercise every day and eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet. So, cheers to your heart! (But only a little).
About the Venice-Ocala Heart Institute:
The foundation of the institute is simple: to care for families as they would for their own. The physicians have worked in with the Venice Regional Medical Center to build a program that has provided the highest quality of care – recognized as one of the Top 100 cardiac surgery programs in the nation. Their goal is to draw upon the expertise of two specialties – cardiovascular surgery and cardiovascular anesthesia delivering the best quality of cardiothoracic and vascular care to the patient’s heart, lungs and vascular. The Venice-Ocala Heart Institute is comprised of cardiac, thoracic and vascular surgeons and cardiovascular anesthesiologists working together to provide superior care for patients.