It’s been found time and again that a glass of wine is actually good for the heart. The problem is that most of us are unsatisfied with a single glass of Cabernet. Instead, we prefer to drink like we’re running from something (or all the things). We know, obviously, that this is unhealthy, and we know, in theory, that it’s bad for our hearts. But what, exactly, is booze doing to the most vital organ in the human body? We spoke to Gregory Marcus, an endowed professor of atrial fibrillation research at the University of California at San Francisco, to find out.
It Screws With Your Heart Rate
“Alcohol can cause variability in the time between heartbeats,” says Marcus. “Studies have found that regular heavy drinking can cause episodes of tachycardia (increased heart rate due to problems in the electrical signals that produce a heartbeat). Complications due to regular episodes of tachycardia vary depending on their frequency, length and severity, but it can cause blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.”
It Jacks Up Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is, essentially, when the blood is pumping with more force than normal through the arteries. “Drinking alcohol on a single occasion can see a temporary increase in blood pressure, and regularly drinking alcohol above the national guidelines can cause alcohol-caused hypertension [high blood pressure],” Marcus explains. “It can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries, and is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.”
It Weakens Your Heart Muscle
“The heart is critical in getting oxygen and nutrients around the body — it does so by generating the pressure for blood to circulate around the body, ensuring blood only flows in one direction,” says Marcus. “The heart’s ability to contract is due to the muscle layer within the heart wall. Heart muscle is called myocardium, and damaged heart muscle is called cardiomyopathy. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to cardiomyopathy.”
It Gives You an Irregular Heartbeat
A change in heart rhythm (not to be confused with heart rate, which we discussed above) is called an arrhythmia. “Arrhythmias can occur because of changes to the heart’s electrical system, which can be caused by blocked signals, abnormal pathways, irritable heart cells, medicines and stimulants,” Marcus explains. “The occurrence of acute cardiac rhythm disturbances (atrial fibrillation is the most common) have been found to be induced by alcohol.” Sometimes referred to as “holiday heart,” these disturbances were found to be more frequent after weekends or holidays like Christmas and New Year’s, which tend to occasion higher alcohol consumption.
It Can Give You a Heart Attack
Alcohol consumption can raise the levels of fat in the blood. “People with high triglycerides often have high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol,” says Marcus. “High levels of bad cholesterol can clog arteries and if a piece of plaque breaks off, a clot forms and a heart attack can result.”
It Can Give You a Stroke
“Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of two types of strokes occurring,” Marcus explains. The first is an ischemic stroke, where an artery supplying blood to the brain tissue is blocked. The second type is a hemorrhagic stroke, which can result from an artery that’s supplying brain tissue tearing and bleeding. “Both result in a disrupted blood flow to brain tissue, and can result in a loss of motor (movement) and sensory (touch, temperature sensations) functions,” Marcus explains. “A stroke can also damage other systems in the body including the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, digestive and urinary systems.”
We’re going to go drink till we forget we ever learned this stuff. Nice knowing you.