Drink right for a healthy heart


Almost every doctor, particularly, cardiologists face this question in evening parties, “Is alcohol good for the heart?” Men want to hear things in favour of drinking alcohol, while their wives often want to make the husband quit this habit as much as possible. While there are many important social and behavioural issues regarding this, I will try to sum up what we, as doctors know today about alcohol and heart protection.

Several observational studies have shown in the past that people who consume alcohol in moderation have lesser chances of heart attacks. Many of these people were regular consumers of a relatively fixed amount of red wine. It was further shown that red wine consumption decreases the chance of blood clotting (anti platelet activity) and increases the blood level of good cholesterol (HDL) which in turn decreases the risk of heart attacks. This was thought to be the cause of lower-than-expected heart disease death rates in France.

This so called advantage of alcohol is possibly true with other forms of liquors as well when consumed in moderation. So far, all the studies done have failed to pin point if one form of liquor is indeed better than the other. Possibly with other forms of liquors one is less likely to keep moderation and is more likely to indulge in smoking and fatty snacks. This may be one reason why people consuming red wine (approx. 150 ml a day) have been found to benefit more. Interestingly, almost in all studies, women were found to have more benefits from drinking wine than men! Further studies are needed to test whether women have more benefits drinking wine (or alcohol) or if they drink lower amounts, thus taking its maximal advantage.

There are other issues about alcohol as well. One needs to realise that even if there is a protective role of alcohol for the heart, there are other organs too in our body to be taken care of. Alcohol has deleterious effects on BP, stomach and liver and increases uric acid. If taken in excess amount, it can cause mental disturba-nces, behavioural changes, abnormal heartbeats and even heart failure. As explained earlier, not many people consume alcohol with salad, they often crave for fatty snacks and people who do not smoke otherwise, tend to smoke when taking alcohol. This package deal may be more harmful than alc-ohol itself. Moreover, one cannot take the amount of five days in one weekend. Binge dr-inking is even more dangerous.

On the whole, there is no reason to advice one to stop alcohol consumption if one is consuming one or two drinks four or five days a week and has normal BP, heart and liver functions and has no uric acid or acid peptic  (“gastric”) disease. Yet, the fact remains, the American College of Cardiology advices doctors not to advice alcohol to prevent heart disease!

Dr Rawat is the Executive Director and Consultant Cardiologist at Norvic Escorts International Hospital, Kathmandu