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Alcohol and Heart Health

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes the greatest number of deaths worldwide. Its share in global mortality is a staggering 30%, which makes it an issue well-worth looking into and alleviating as best we can. While risk factors for cardiovascular disease are numerous and some of them, like genetics, ageing or congenital issues, are beyond our control, many of them are bound to lifestyle choices, which are our direct responsibility. You could say that in many cases we are the makers of our own misery.

Behavioral factors involved in increased likelihood of developing CVD are diet, level of physical activity, tobacco consumption and alcohol intake. Whereas the former two are largely a matter of being too busy or lazy to cook and eat properly or exercise regularly, the latter two are our choices, albeit subconscious, in favor of something that has no benefit for our health whatsoever and may eat up large portions of our budget.

How Alcohol Impacts Cardiovascular System

Blood Pressure. Studies have shown that regular alcohol consumption is responsible for an increase in blood pressure and raises the risk of developing hypertensive heart disease by 15%. Harmful effect is not limited to strong liquors, and applies to all alcoholic beverages, including red wine, which has been a subject of controversy due to its possible beneficial effect, which has not, however, been substantially proven.

Increased or Irregular Heart Rate. It has been proven that heavy alcohol consumption, even of such a relatively ‘light’ beverage as beer, has a detrimental impact on heart rhythms. It is associated with a 25% likelihood of tachycardia, or increased heart rate. The chances of developing atrial fibrillation are also increased by occasional binge-drinking and especially by prolonged heavy drinking at a rate of 8% increase for each extra beverage. Although the effect wears off within a day after the exposure to alcohol ceases, the implications of long-term heavy alcohol consumption should not be taken lightly, since improper heart rhythms are associated with heart muscle damage and such severe conditions as stroke and heart attack.

Cardiac Muscle Damage. Long-term alcohol abuse may cause a heart condition called alcohol cardiomyopathy, which is the damage to the cardiac muscle induced by toxicity of ethanol. As a result of consistent exposure to the harmful effects of alcohol, the heart’s lower chambers enlarge and weaken, becoming incapable of pumping blood effectively enough to supply all of the body’s needs.

What Diseases Alcohol Causes

Stroke is a disease that is caused by disrupted blood flow to the brain. This disruption may occur due to a blockage formed by a blood clot in the arteries supplying the brain. One of the most common causes of stroke is atrial fibrillation, which leads to clot formation through irregular heart rhythm and blood pooling in the heart’s chambers. Another risk factor is hypertension or increased blood pressure, which can weaken the artery walls and lead to their rupture. Since both of these conditions are often fueled by alcohol consumption, the connection between alcohol abuse and stroke is quite obvious.

Heart attack happens as a result of cardiac muscle damage induced by inadequate blood supply caused by plaque, fat or cholesterol build-up on the walls of coronary arteries. Leading to higher levels of fat in the blood and increased blood pressure, alcohol abuse contributes to the development of coronary artery disease and may cause clots to break off the artery walls and block blood flow.

Photo by @desmond_schlau

Our cardiovascular system is a complex network of blood vessels and organs. It is a fine-tuned orchestra that will not tolerate disruption of any of its parts. As soon as there is any type of malfunctioning, compensation mechanisms spring into action in order to ensure that the most vital organs and systems are supplied with blood and, thus, oxygen and nutrients, even if it comes at the cost of lower priorities. This means that long before actually causing disease, alcohol will trigger the gradual process of heart health damage which will rob our bodies of their full potential, leaving us still seemingly healthy, but far from being in our prime.

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