Alcohol and Heart Health

By Dr. Balbir Singh in Cardiac Sciences

Sep 05 , 2022 | 1 min read

In medical terms, alcohol is a toxic substance with recreational and dependence-producing properties. The question remains whether its effects on the heart are protective or harmful.

A quote from Winston Churchill- “I have taken more from alcohol than alcohol has taken from me”, was recently refuted by an article published in the medical journal Heart Rhythm from Korea. It studied alcohol consumption and the risk of atrial fibrillation in asymptomatic healthy adults. Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder with several ill effects on the body, including heart failure and brain strokes, and is associated with significantly higher morbidity and mortality.

A total of 19,634 individuals were studied with about 13,075 drinkers and followed over five years. It was noted that 160 developed new-onset atrial fibrillation, and 60 had a heart attack, which was much higher in drinkers than non-drinkers. This risk was dose-dependent- the higher the intake, the worse the outcome, and the risk was highest in frequent binge drinkers compared to infrequent light drinkers.

Alcohol could cause these adverse effects by direct toxicity to the heart or through indirect effects such as sleep apnea, obesity, and hypertension. Some other studies have shown that even drinking moderate amounts could be a risk factor for the development of atrial fibrillation. The effects of alcohol could differ in men and women, with risk increasing more abruptly in men than women, probably due to more alcohol consumed by men than women in this study.

In conclusion, the consumption of alcohol and its effects on the heart have generated conflicting views in the past, including that a moderate amount of drinking may be protective. However, the newer data does not support this view, as moderate drinking also produced a higher incidence of atrial fibrillation and binge-drinking was the worst. Society needs to understand and avoid regular or binge-drinking since it has several ill effects on the heart.