Heart Disease Protection Drinking

Most reputable medical institutions including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute don’t recommend drinking for heart health or increasing alcohol intake as a means of maintaining heart function. Too much alcohol consumption can raise levels of unhealthy fats in the blood, increase blood pressure and increase the risk of heart failure. Alcohol contains many calories, and a high calorie intake can cause obesity and diabetes, both of which exacerbate heart disease.

These warnings are only those that pertain directly to heart disease. Alcohol intake has also been associated with liver damage, cancer risk and dozens of other health threats, including fatal accidents. So, drinking for heart health may be unwise.

Some demographic studies, however, seem to suggest better cardiovascular health, more flexible arteries and fewer heart attacks among populations and cultures in which wine and other beverages are consumed on a regular basis. Red wine benefits in particular have been described in some news reports, and internet sites abound that describe red wine benefits and recommend drinking for heart health.

Ongoing research is underway to reconcile the conflicting information, and the following conclusions have begun to emerge.

Drinking for Heart Health: A Good Idea?

In a word, no. Red wine is believed to contain flavonoids, healthy anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant substances found in the skins of grapes and other red and dark blue fruits. Flavonoids have been proven to prevent oxidative damage and protect the long-term health and flexibility of blood vessels, and they do exist in wine, especially red wine. But other sources of flavonoids are far more heart healthy. Wine contains flavonoid levels comparable to grape juice.

Studies delineating the advantages of drinking heart healthy wine, particularly red wine benefits, may be misleading, since these study results may be correlative, not causative. Some heart healthy, wine-drinking populations may be more inclined to physical exercise or social lifestyles, both of which are strong contributors to heart health.

And finally, alcohol in moderation may be acceptable, but the exact measure of heart healthy wine intake varies in accordance with many factors including age, weight, heredity and current heart health. Very few of us fall into such low risk categories that red wine benefits outweigh its drawbacks.

Alcohol and Your Heart: Recommendations

If you don’t drink currently, don’t start drinking for the sake of your heart health. Instead, protect your heart by staying physically active, having regular medical check-ups and eating a heart healthy diet of green vegetables, colorful fruits and whole grains. If you do drink, limit your intake to one (if female) or two (if male) alcoholic beverages per day. You should not drink at all if you’re pregnant or intend to drive.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Alcohol, wine and cardiovascular disease. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from http://americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4422

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Red wine and resveratrol: good for your heart? Retrieved November 3, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089

Yale-New Haven Hospital. (2005). A glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from http://www.ynhh.org/online/nutrition/advisor/red_wine.html