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Mar 16, 2016

Heavy Drinking Heightens Immediate Risk for Heart Attack and Stroke

The protective benefits of alcohol only come with moderation.

The negative health effects of heavy drinking are immediate and long-lasting, based on a study linking heavy drinking to heightened risk for heart attack and stroke within hours of consumption.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked at the immediate effects of alcohol on heart health. According to authors, it’s well established that moderate alcohol consumption—defined as up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men—can improve heart health. In moderation, alcohol has been shown to raise good cholesterol, reduce blood clotting and protect against heart disease. However, few studies have looked at the immediate health effects of alcohol, which may be different.

To learn more, researchers analyzed 23 past studies on alcohol consumption and heart health. In total, nearly 29,500 adults from all parts of the world were included in the study.

After analysis, researchers found that risk for heart events increased within hours of any alcohol consumption. However, the negative heart effects of moderate drinking were short-lived. The immediate risks associated with moderate drinking diminished within 24 hours, and risk for heart attack and stroke was actually reduced by 30%.

Heavy drinking, on the other hand, was much more hazardous to heart health. Having 6–9 drinks more than doubled risk for heart attack and stroke in the 24 hours following drinking. Heavy drinkers had anywhere from 2–6 times greater risk for heart events in the week following alcohol consumption compared to non-drinkers.

The take-home message, as authors explain, is the importance of moderation. While alcohol can protect heart health, it all depends on drinking patterns. Alcohol has been shown to have a protective effect on cardiovascular health, but only when consumed in moderation. When alcohol is consumed in excess, the negative effects of alcohol can be both instant and long-lasting.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is it healthy to drink alcohol on a daily basis?
  • In moderation, research shows that alcohol consumption (one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men) may lower risk for heart disease. However, exceeding these limits can have serious effects on cardiovascular and overall health.
  • What does "one drink" mean when it comes to alcohol?
  • If you drink alcohol, it’s recommended to do so in moderation, which means up to two drinks a day for men and up to one drink a day for women. A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. serving of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.

Featured Video

Among some of the benefits of drinking a modest amount of alcohol are decreased risk of heart attack, decreased risk of ischemic stroke, decreased risk of blood clotting, and increased levels of good cholesterol.

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