Heart health and alcohol
Almost 1 in 3 deaths in Ireland were caused by heart disease and stroke in 2018, according to the Central Statistics Office.1 In 2019, 40% of Irish adults reported their concern about developing heart disease in the future.2 High blood pressure and high cholesterol were among the top three health conditions reported by the people in this survey.
The good news is that 80% of heart disease and stroke is preventable through lifestyle changes.3 Drinking less or cutting out alcohol is an action we can all take to improve our heart health.
Alcohol and your heart
Drinking a lot of alcohol over a long time or regularly binge drinking can affect how your heart works.4 This can cause different problems, including:
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- weakened heart muscles (cardiomyopathy)
- irregular heartbeat (arrythmia)
Myths about alcohol and heart health
We have all read media articles citing research claiming the health benefits of low or moderate drinking, particularly around heart health. However, a growing number of recent studies concluded that any beneficial effects against heart disease were cancelled out by the combined health risks associated with alcohol.5 This means that any protective effects arising from low levels of alcohol consumption have to be balanced against the risks linked to other health conditions.
How does alcohol harm your heart?
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke in Ireland. Regularly drinking more than the low-risk guidelines raises your blood pressure. This can affect the muscles in your blood vessels, causing them to become narrower. This means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body, so you blood pressure rises. High blood pressure can also affect how quickly a heart beats (arrhythmia) and can cause the heart muscles to weaken (cardiomyopathy).6
High blood pressure is the most common alcohol-related health problem in Ireland. But many people don’t realise they have it. In fact, it is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’. It is estimated that 1.2 million adults in Ireland – 1/4 of the population – will have high blood pressure in 2020.
Alcohol, weight and your heart
If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to have a heart attack than a person who is a healthy weight. Remember, alcohol has a high calorie content and can also contain a lot of sugar. This can contribute to weight gain and limit progress of fitness efforts. Reducing the amount you drink can help you lose weight. And this is good for your heart health.
Stay heart healthy
Here are some tips from Irish Heart Foundation to improve your blood pressure:
1 Irish Heart Foundation https://irishheart.ie/news/heart-disease-and-stroke-among-leading-causes-of-death-in-2018/
2 Pfizer Health Index 2019 https://www.pfizer.ie/sites/default/files/pfizer_health_and_science_index_deck_for_attendees_.pdf
3 World Health Organisation – Cardiovascular Diseases Statistics https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/cardiovascular-diseases/data-and-statistics
4 HSE – Alcohol’s effect on blood pressure and the heart https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/blood-pressure-and-the-heart.html
5 Global Burden of Disease Study 2018 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext#seccestitle10
6 Irish Heart Foundation https://irishheart.ie/news/excessive-alcohol-consumption-harms-your-heart/