Let’s face it: we’ll always find a reason to serve alcohol. A good glass of wine or a cocktail is part of the experience when you go out to dinner. Friends coming to visit? Quick, open a bottle of bubbly! And when you’re out on the terrace, drinking just water is no fun. But what about the effects? Can alcohol fit in with a healthy lifestyle? What effect does alcohol have on your body and your heart? Is it harmful, or isn’t it? FibriCheck will answer these questions for you.
AN ALCOHOL-SOAKED TRADITION
Our ancestors enjoyed a glass as much as we do. Admittedly, they had some very good reasons. Until the 18th century, wine and beer were simply a better option than drinking water, which was often of poor quality. It’s become a habit that we’ve continued for a long time. At every meal, there would be a bottle of table beer from which even the youngest were allowed to drink.
Now that it’s perfectly safe to quench your thirst with tap water, there’s no longer a valid reason to drink alcohol. Or is there? After all, isn’t water just meant for fish to swim in? We love to have a drink because it helps us enjoy life. At home, with friends, at a party, in the cafeteria of a sports club or at a festival – it’s all part of the deal.
BUT ISN’T ALCOHOL GOOD FOR THE HEART?
A daily glass of alcohol keeps the heart healthy. That perception still prevails. And in some ways, it’s true. Red wine, for instance, contains antioxidants that fight harmful substances in your body.1 But to ensure that the antioxidants win the battle, you would have to drink so much wine that those substances would be the least of your worries.
What is true, however, is that limited alcohol consumption reduces the risks of heart problems for one-third of patients.2 This positive effect is thought to be caused by the fact that:
- Alcohol leads to an increase in good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), which removes excess bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) from the blood.
- Alcohol prevents platelets from sticking together so blood vessels don’t become blocked.
By ‘limited’ consumption, we mean the absolute minimum: 1 glass per day, best followed by two consecutive alcohol-free days. Because, from the second glass onwards, the risks of high blood pressure increase, therefore any beneficial effect no longer applies.3 So we might conclude that when it comes to alcohol, there are always more disadvantages than advantages.
THE EFFECT OF ALCOHOL ON YOUR BODY AND HEART
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a sobering report.4 Worldwide, 1 in 20 people die from the effects of excessive alcohol consumption. About one fifth of these is due to cardiovascular disease. After all, alcohol not only has an effect on our liver, kidneys and brain cells, but also on our heart.
- Alcohol dehydrates your organs
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, and this loss of fluids puts a strain on your organs, lowers your mineral content, and is also a proven trigger for cardiac rhythm disorders.
- Alcohol raises your blood pressure
If you drink too much, your blood vessels narrow and your heart needs to work harder to pump blood through your body. This not only increases your blood pressure, but also increases your risk of heart disease and a stroke.5
- Alcohol weakens your heart muscle
Alcohol reduces the electrical conductivity of your heart, making it contract less efficiently. And this, in turn, increases the risk of heart arrhythmia.6
- Alcohol sends the connection between your brain and your heart into overdrive
Your brain is connected to important organs such as your heart and lungs, via the so-called vagal nerve. Alcohol has a stimulating effect on these organs with, once again, the risk of… yes, cardiac arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation.7
- Alcohol thins your blood
Like blood thinners, alcohol has an anticoagulant effect. In certain cases, this can turn out to be a good thing. But more often than not, it isn’t. Certainly not if you are already taking blood-thinning medication for, say, cardiac arrhythmia.8
Moreover, international studies confirm that alcohol is not only a trigger for (temporary) cardiac rhythm disorders (more specifically atrial fibrillation), but that long-term alcohol consumption can also cause a temporary cardiac rhythm disorder to turn into a persistent condition of atrial fibrillation. This may result in the possibility of a stroke.9
THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES
It’s best to live entirely free from alcohol. This is also the advice given by the World Health Organization (WHO).10 Does that mean you can no longer enjoy yourself? Of course not. Sober is the new trend. You’ll find more and more non-alcoholic cocktails on menus these days, and trendy restaurants even have a water sommelier.
Drinking water is now in vogue. And it’s healthy. While alcohol drains fluids and minerals from your body, water provides hydration. That’s why it’s called mineral water.
Are you finding the switch to water difficult? Then dive into our helpful tips.
- Make drinking water a habit
Make sure you always have water available. Have a bottle of water on the table at every meal. Drink a full glass during every break. In no time, you’ll have no trouble reaching the recommended daily intake of 1.5 litres.
- Add a flavour to your water
Do you find that drinking water is not exactly enticing? Pimp your water with a few slices of lime, cucumber, orange or a few sprigs of fresh mint. Your water will immediately look a lot more inviting.
- Invest in a refillable water container
Drinking more water is a lot easier when it’s always available. Buy an attractive water bottle and don’t leave home without it. In addition to your keys, wallet and smartphone, water is your new accessory.
- It’s okay to fall off the wagon once in a while
If you do drink because you miss your favourite wine, bubbly or beer, do it in moderation. Keep it to a maximum of 5 alcoholic drinks, and drink a full glass of water after each glass of alcohol.
- Make drinking water a habit
- De Maeseneer W. Nu Tournée Minérale morgen start, voor eens en voor altijd: is een glas rode wijn per dag nu gezond of niet? Consulted on https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2020/01/30/voor-eens-en-voor-altijd-is-een-glas-rode-wijn-per-dag-nu-gezon/
- Larsson S et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of heart failure: a dose–response meta‐analysis of prospective studies, 2015, doi: 10.1002/ejhf.228.
- Parry et al. Alcohol consumption and non-communicable diseases: epidemiology and policy implications, 2011, doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03605.x.
- Schepens W. Wereldgezondheidsorganisatie: “1 op de 20 overlijdens komt door gevolgen overmatig alcoholgebruik”. Consulted on https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/09/22/alcohol-doodt-jaarlijks-3-miljoen-mensen/
- Our Health Service. Alcohol’s effect on the body. Consulted on: https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/blood-pressure-and-the-heart.html
- Cardiologie Centra Nederland. Risicofactoren. Consulted on: https://www.cardiologiecentra.nl/risicofactoren/
- Mandyam MC, Vedantham V, Scheinman MM, et al. Alcohol and vagal tone as triggers for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Am J Cardiol. 2012.
- Jouw lokale huisapotheker. Waarom gaan alcohol en geneesmiddelen niet goed samen? Consulted on: https://www.jouwlokalehuisapotheker.be/waarom-gaan-alcohol-en-geneesmiddelen-niet-goed-samen/
- Voskoboinik A et al. Alcohol and Atrial Fibrillation: A sobering review, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2016, doi: j.jacc.2016.08.074.
- Schepens W. Wereldgezondheidsorganisatie: “1 op de 20 overlijdens komt door gevolgen overmatig alcoholgebruik”. Consulted on: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/09/22/alcohol-doodt-jaarlijks-3-miljoen-mensen/