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Would Your Heart Love a Drink?

beer glass

It’s hard to believe, but fall is right around the corner. That means apple picking, watching the fall foliage and, a crowd favorite, partaking in Oktoberfest and local wine festivals. But can participating in the occasional festival and adult beverage impact your heart? The number of studies detailing the pros and cons of alcohol and heart health can leave you spinning!

Is Wine Really Fine?

Red wine may have some heart health benefits. Research shows that antioxidants found in red wine called polyphenols may help protect blood vessel linings. Resveratrol, a specific type of polyphenol, may be the key factor that gives red wine its favorable effects. When consumed in small quantities, red wine may raise good cholesterol and help prevent blood clots. 

Dark vs. Light?

What if you’re more of a beer connoisseur? A new study shows that beer may be beneficial to the heart, but it’s about the color – and dark beer is the winner. Dark beer is rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant effects. Dark beer also contains higher amounts of folic acid. This nutrient has been shown to reduce high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid in the blood) which has been linked to the development of heart disease. 

Heart and Alcohol

Liquor Might Make You Sicker.

The research available on the heart health benefits of liquor is limited. However, consuming a large amount of liquor can significantly raise the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in addition to other negative health consequences. One study demonstrated a 53% higher risk of DVT in people who drink more than 3 ounces of liquor per week compared to non-drinkers. DVT occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in the deep veins in your body. It can cause pain or swelling, but also can occur with no symptoms.

Quantity Is Key!

Alcohol and heart health is a complex topic, and the jury is still out as to whether or not it’s beneficial. A moderate amount of alcohol is proven to have some heart health benefits. Several research studies have found that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol:

  • Raises HDL (healthy) cholesterol
  • Reduces the formation of blood clots
  • Prevents artery damage from high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Improves the function of the layer of cells that line blood vessels (endothelium)

In stark contrast, overindulging will have detrimental health effects. Too much alcohol consumed at one time can cause a sudden spike in heart rate, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. It is essential to remember that healthy adults should exercise moderation when drinking! That means:

  • Up to one drink a day for women of all ages
  • Up to one drink a day for men older than age 65
  • Up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger

And a drink is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces (44 mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits 

It’s important to speak to your doctor about the pros and cons of drinking alcohol and your health. Currently, the American Heart Association warns people not to start drinking alcohol for its heart health benefits if they typically don’t drink.

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.


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