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June Russell's Health Facts

Alcohol - Heart and Triglycerides

[Occurrence]   [Alcohol Effects]   [High Blood Pressure]   [Strokes]  
[Panic Disorder]   [Triglycerides]   [Cholesterol]   [Statins]   [  A Daily Drink Good for You?]  
[Other Medical Complications]   [Prevention]  


More than 250,000 Americans have a fatal heart attack each year.
{“Secrets of the Heart,” by Sally Squires, Washington Post Health, August 8, 2000}

Each year 500,000 Americans will suffer a stroke, and 150,000 of these will die.
{“What Medicine Will Conquer Next,” Parade, Nov. 1995}

How Alcohol Interferes with Heart Health

Alcohol destroys a vital enzyme necessary for muscle contraction when ingested in any quantity. It is also risky for people with heart problems to drink at all since alcohol can reduce cardiac output.
{in the book, “Guidelines to Safe Drinking,” Nicolas Pace, MD, 1984}

Alcohol inhibits enzymes needed for heart contraction. The reduction of coronary disease from alcohol consumption is only a weak association (30%) and it would be irresponsible to advise anyone to consume alcohol to reduce risks of coronary disease. Some studies have come into question because of other variables that could have caused the outcome. Many experts in the field state that they do not recommend alcohol to reduce coronary disease because of the damaging effects on the cardiovascular system. Alcohol use is associated with deleterious effects on virtually every part of the body. Eliminating or reducing alcohol can reduce the symptoms of heart failure and improve the quality of your life.
{Alcohol Health and Research World, 1989, and Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1990}

Alcohol interferes with calcium absorption which is needed for heart contraction, so it is likely to impair the strength of the heart muscle.
{Alcohol Health and Research World, 1990, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services}

Alcohol makes every kind of irregular heart rhythm worse, says Paul Hopkins, MD, doctor of internal medicine, University of Utah, Cardiovascular Genetics Research Center in Salt Lake City. Eliminate alcohol and you may be able to reduce or prevent symptoms of palpitations.
{“Getting Healthy Now,” book by Gary Null, 1999 -}

Low to moderate doses of alcohol cause blood vessels within muscles to constrict, while causing those at the surface of the skin to dilate. Blood cannot reach the muscles where it is needed and performance is diminished.
{Health and Human Services, pamphlet no. (CDC) 89-8414, DHHS publication}  Editor's comment: The heart is a muscle.

The adverse effects of alcohol on the heart muscle, or myocardium, have been known since the 1700's, and although the reason is unclear, acetaldehyde (the first product of alcohol oxidation), may induce myocardial damage (Screiber et al.). Alcohol has been shown to diminish myocardial protein synthesis (Bing).
{"Role of Alcohol in the Diseases of the Liver," - September 2002}

High Blood Pressure

One in four adult Americans has high blood pressure.
{Reader’s Digest, “High Blood Pressure,” Jan. 1996}

High blood pressure can be triggered by alcohol consumption.
{Family Guide to Stroke, Heart Association, 1994, and Nutrition Action Health Letter, April 1998}

Alcohol consumption at any level significantly increases the risk of stroke, especially in women. Medical studies show that those with high blood pressure who drink alcohol should stop consumption because doing so results in a decrease in blood pressure. Men are more susceptible than women to the high blood pressure effect of alcohol.
{"The Effects of Alcohol on the Heart," Alcohol Research Center, LSUHSC, August 2002}

For more information, see Alcohol - Blood Pressure in this Web site.


Even light drinking (two or three a week) can double the risk of hemorrhagic strokes.

To reduce stroke risk, lower triglycerides as well as cholesterol. According to the Dec. 11, 2002 issue of Circulation, high triglycerides raise your risk of stroke, independent of your cholesterol levels.
{Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Focus on Healthy Aging newsletter, February 2002}   Editor's comment: Even small amounts of alcohol increase triglycerides.

Panic Disorder

Up to 5% in the general population have panic disorder and about one-fourth of the population experiences panic attacks from time to time. If you have the double disease of panic disorder and coronary disease, then it’s a cause for concern because panic attacks may also restrict blood flow to the heart, resulting in chest pain in patients who have heart disease, says Dr. Richard Fleet, of the Montreal Heart Institute. When artificially inducing panic attacks, 80% of the patients with panic disorder experienced reduced flow to the heart upon the onset of the panic attack, while 40% of those without the disorder experienced such an effect.
{“Panic attacks endanger heart health,” HealthCentral, March 2001}  Editor's comment: Note that the use of alcohol increases the incidence of panic attacks.


A study reported that wine consumption in patients who had experienced a heart attack resulted in not only higher HDL levels, but also higher LDL and triglyceride levels. Avoid alcohol if you have heart failure.
{ - Oct. 1999}

Reuters Health reports that researchers have shown that people with elevated triglycerides are at an increased risk of having a heart attack, even when their cholesterol levels are normal. This study adds to the growing evidence on the importance of high triglycerides as a risk factor for heart disease.
{ - June 2000}

High blood levels of triglycerides often go hand in hand with low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and in a number of cases, high “bad” LDL cholesterol. The lifestyle steps necessary for improving the levels of these various substances in the blood often overlap, but not always. Decrease and cut way back on alcohol consumption.
{“When Your Number’s Up, Is Your Number Up?” Washington Post Health, August 1, 2000}

Alcohol reduces the amount of the enzyme that breaks down triglycerides.
{Steven Inkles, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCLA Medical School and physician at Pritikin Longevity Center}

Alcohol spurs the liver to make more triglycerides, and even light drinking (two to four ounces of wine a week) can raise triglycerides.
{Diabetes Organization, Feb. 2000, and Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, July 1997}

If your triglycerides are high, eliminate wine/alcohol. Alcohol is the most potent substance for raising plasma triglycerides, and those who have high triglycerides are prone to diabetes over time - over the next few years. If triglycerides are elevated, stop drinking alcohol, and have your triglyceride level retested. You may have a triglyceride disorder and are only harming yourself by drinking alcohol, even in small quantities. In addition, the alcohol will potentiate the toxicity of cholesterol-lowering medications much more than the drugs would do alone. Actually the major problem with the statins and liver problems are because of the use of alcohol.
{"Heart Health," Robert Rosenson, MD, Director of Preventive Cardiology at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago, People's Pharmacy, Oct. 2, 1999, PBS Radio Health Talk Show}

Blood triglycerides are a marker for heart disease, and likely an independent risk factor as well. People with high triglyceride levels or Syndrome X should severely limit their consumption of alcohol, or abstain from it altogether. Even a small amount can have a dramatic effect on triglyceride levels.
{Harvard Health Letter, - Sec. 2001}

Triglycerides are only accurately measured after an 8 to 12 hour fast. High triglycerides and low levels of HDL (good cholesterol) that usually co-exist are important risk factors for the main type of stroke (called the ischemic stroke) among patients with heart disease.
{from 'Circulation,' on and Dr. Mercola's comments, Dec. 2001}

Alcohol, even more than sugar, may increase blood triglycerides. Alcohol is high in calories and low in nutrients: avoid alcohol.
{College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Holly Alley, MS, RD, LD - nutrition specialist, Dept. of Food and Nutrition. Dec. 2001}

If you do not require insulin, or are not diabetic, you may be able to manage your elevated triglycerides by avoiding alcohol. Some people are more susceptible to developing raised triglycerides in response to alcohol, so if you consume alcohol regularly, you may lower your triglycerides by avoiding alcohol. Alcohol also poisons the liver.
{ - Dec. 2001}

A study in 'Circulation' suggests that levels of triglycerides in the blood may predict heart attack risk, as well as other more well-known blood fats such as LDL and HDL cholesterol. High triglycerides alone increase the risk of heart attack nearly three-fold, according to this report. The ratio of triglycerides to HDL was the strongest predictor of a heart attack, even more accurate than the LDL/HDL ratio reported the Harvard lead study.
{"Triglycerides May Predict Heart Risk," Dr. Mercola on - Aug. 29, 2001} Editor's comment: Even light drinking, two to three times per week, can elevate triglycerides.

Alcohol is the most potent substance for raising plasma triglycerides, and those who have high triglycerides are prone to diabetes over the next several years. If you have a triglyceride disorder you will harm yourself if you drink alcohol, even in small quantities. In addition, alcohol will potentiate the toxicity of cholesterol-lowering medications; actually this is a major problem with the statins.
{Dr. Robert Rosenson, director of preventive cardiology at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, People’s Pharmacy, Public Radio, Show #284, Oct. 1999}

A high triglyceride level is anything over 2.0 mmol/l. Alcohol intake can contribute to high triglycerides, which may increase the risk of coronary disease and stroke.
{‘Frequently asked questions,” - September 2002}

Because alcohol can increase triglycerides, reduce or eliminate alcohol if you have high triglyceride levels.
{“Should You Drink Wine?” Dr. Weil’s Self Healing newsletter, December 2002}


LDL (bad) cholesterol rose even when the amount of alcohol consumption was fairly small.
{Prevention, Nov. 1987}

Alcohol taxes the liver and reduces the ability to detoxify blood, causing more harm to blood vessels. If the liver is busy processing alcohol, it is less able to process cholesterol.
{JAMA, 1985 study in Nutrition Science News, March 1999}


Alcohol will potentiate the toxicity of cholesterol-lowering medications much more than the drugs would do alone. Actually the major problem with the statins and liver problems is because of the use of alcohol.
{“Heart Health,” Robert Rosenson, MD, Director of Preventive Cardiology at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, on People’s Pharmacy, Oct. 2, 1999, PBS radio Health Talk show}

Statins are not recommended if you use alcohol. Daily use may increase your chances of serious side effects. Limit alcoholic beverages.
{“Oral Statins,” - July 2003}

How safe are statins? Some patients develop high liver enzymes when taking a statin. To protect your liver, you should go easy on alcohol or avoid it completely while taking a statin.
{“Drugs to Lower Cholesterol (Statins),” - July 2003)

Is a Daily Drink Good for You?

  When a heart attack occurs, blood flow is reduced to several areas of the body, but when the blood flow is restored or reestablished, the blood carries white blood cells to the areas damaged by the reduction in blood delivery. Unfortunately, these blood cells stick to the walls of the arteries and release toxic chemicals into the damaged tissues, causing additional cell death. A study in Microcirculation, December 2004, using an animal model, found that when alcohol was introduced to the system at the rate of one drink every 48 hours, the alcohol would trigger a chemical reaction in the body that would make the artery walls slick and stop the white blood cells from attaching to the damaged tissue. In subjects that were treated with the alcohol, the tissue affected by the low blood flow was much healthier and stronger than the untreated tissue. The researcher, Ron Korthuis, warns that this is not a license to drink, in fact, "every time you take a drink of alcohol, you're killing brain cells." He also mentioned that other natural compounds have similar effects — such as capsaicin, a compound in Tabasco sauce that creates that hot sensation.
{, October 2004}   Author’s comment: Why did the media not carry a title that would suggest a natural ingredient such as capsaicin as beneficial instead of the toxin alcohol?}

Korthhuis said taking a drug would be preferable to having a few drinks because alcohol is bad for other parts of the body, including the brain and liver.
{Columbia Daily Tribune, "MU scientist claims to have cracked "French Paradox," September 3, 2004}

Author’s comment: Some of titles in the news media deceptively suggest alcohol as possibly healthy for the heart using this study as evidence, but they omitted the warnings. Headlines like these are common but misleading — “ Alcohol helps reduce damage after a heart attack"; “It’s not just the red wine that might contribute to senior’s health”; “MU claims to have cracked “French Paradox,” etc. No mention that alcoholic beverages are a class “A” human carcinogen (along with arsenic, asbestos, benzene, tobacco and others — and that any amount of alcohol increases cancer), nor that the ‘French Paradox’ was disproved years ago because of false data.

Daily drink good for my heart? The findings are contradictory. One study has indicated that an alcoholic drink daily will raise the HDL level in your blood. Another study showed that the kind of HDL associated with alcohol consumption doesn't help the heart. Also alcohol can contribute to weight problems. Besides the calories it contains, it anesthetizes the taste buds, making food less satisfying causing you to eat more than you would if you hadn't had that drink.
{Preventing Heart Disease, The New Pritikin Program, 1988}

Alcohol in low to moderate amounts seems to have the potential for beneficial as well as toxic effects on the heart. Research has not confirmed that alcohol itself causes the lower risk for CHD. It is possible that the lower risk is from other variables. Alcohol use disrupts the contraction of heart muscle, and intoxication can cause arrhythmias even in healthy persons.
(U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services in their 10th Report to Congress on Alcohol and Health - 2000}

The relationship of alcohol consumption to the risk for congestive heart failure is probably complex, writes Dr. Craig R. Walch and his colleagues from the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study. This study began in 1948, on over 6,000 men and women who took part in the study. The risk was 59% lower among those men who had roughly one to two drinks a day. In the women there was some evidence that those who consumed three to seven drinks a week had a lower risk of heart failure. Researchers noted that the difference in women was not significant. The amounts of alcohol deemed safe in this study have been shown to increase the odds of death from other illnesses. According to Dr. Joshua Wynne of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, although there are two studies built on evidence that moderate drinking can protect the heart, the information is "problematic." What do we do with this information in the light of our awareness of its multiple (potential) deleterious effects? "I think not."
{"Drinking Can Help the Heart, but Carries Risks," Reuters Health, News from Yahoo, Feb. 2002}

Although large numbers of observational studies support a true protective effect of moderate consumption of alcohol, no clinical trials have been performed to test the alcohol-CHD relation.
{“Alcohol Effects on People,” U.S. Department of Transportation (NHTSA), Alcohol and Highway Safety 2001, Dec. 2002}

Despite the wealth of observational data, it is not absolutely clear that alcohol reduces cardiovascular risk, because no randomized controlled trials have been performed. Alcohol should never be recommended to patients to reduce cardiovascular risk as a substitute for the well-proven alternatives of appropriate diet, exercise and drugs. Red wine, containing antioxidants, has been purported to be especially cardio-protective, but it is not associated with reduced all-cause mortality in European countries. Wine drinkers tends to be less fat; they exercise more and usually drink with meals. {American Heart Association 2002} Japan has the lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease (half that of France) and all-cause mortality of any westernized country. It has a per capita wine consumption one sixth that of France and an alcohol consumption less than one half that of France (Lancet 1994). A better explanation for the low mortality in Japan is the lower per capita consumption of animal fat (half that of France) and higher consumption of fruit (twice that of France). The proposed cardiovascular benefits of alcohol must be evaluated against numerous adverse effects.

The trouble with a study that shows alcohol consumption does not increase heart failure (Annals of Internal Medicine) is that alcohol is a problem for those at risk for alcoholic cardiomyopathy; and often, these people don't know they are at risk, says Dr. Milton Packer, Director of the Heart Failure Center at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. This latest study to confirm that alcohol may be good for some hearts is already drawing fire from critics who claim the results are misleading. In these people at risk, any amount can prove harmful, Packer says.
{"To Drink or Not to Drink," HealthScout, Yahoo, Feb. 2002}

A five-year Finnish study of 4,532 men aged 40-64 revealed a reduced incidence of sudden death in abstainers, regardless of the presence of heart disease. This was true of both smokers and nonsmokers. Over the past decade there have been several studies which have suggested that low to moderate alcohol intake reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. However, factors other than the moderate use of alcohol may be involved. Patients in this group tend to have lower blood pressure and body weight, as well as a lower intake of saturated fat and a higher intake of polyunsaturated fat. A persistent flaw has been the composition of the control group. It is believed that there are sufficient ex-drinkers in this group to compromise its validity, since they share a number of characteristics that increase cardiovascular risk. These include a higher prevalence of cigarette smoking, obesity, and hypertension when compared with those who were never drinkers. Moreover, they are likely to be unmarried and to work in manual occupations.
{"The Cardiovascular System and Alcohol," by Timothy J. Regan, MD, Sept. 2002 -}

Other Medical Complications of Alcohol Use

One should keep in mind the tremendous number of medical complications that alcohol, even in meager amounts, can cause. For example, one of the leading causes of cardiac arrhythmias is alcohol. The worst thing one can prescribe for any failing heart is alcohol in any amount.
{“Alcohol, a Fitness Potient? Don't Believe It,” Nicholas Pace, MD, letter to the New York Times, May 11, 1993}

Combining alcohol and vigorous dancing may put you at greater risk for heart attack, says Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH, President and founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center. Alcohol, a stimulant, makes the heart more irritable and may precipitate cardiac arrhythmias. Stick to soda to rehydrate or, better yet, water!

Even social drinking or mild intoxication can cause healthy people to faint, due to the way alcohol impairs the body’s ability to tighten blood vessels. Alcohol relaxes blood vessel walls.
{“Falling Down, but not Drunk,” Sally Squires, Washington Post Health, Feb. 2000}

Weight gain in women, particularly in the abdominal area, triggers inflammation in the body and significantly raises the risk of heart disease, according to the Jan. 15, 2002, issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
{"Ladies: Keep a Watch on That Belly," WebMD Medical News, Medscape health - Feb. 2002}   Editor's comment: Alcohol use contributes to weight gain, and therefore contributes to the inflammation which raises the risk of heart disease.

Alcohol has adverse cardiac effects on blood pressure, ventricular function, and incidence of atrial fibrillation. Many non-cardiac conditions and diseases, such as violence, accidents, liver and neurological disease, pancreatitis, and cancer are exacerbated by alcohol consumption. In younger individuals it includes accidents, violence, suicide, and fetal alcohol syndrome and there is no data supporting the benefit of alcohol in this age group. In older individuals, liver and neurological diseases, pancreatitis, and cancer emerge as the major adverse effects. Acute alcohol ingestion is associated with decreased left ventricular function and pro-arrhythmic effects, most notably paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (“holiday heart syndrome”). Alcohol increases triglycerides.
{“Alcohol, Heart Disease, and Mortality: A Review,” Robert A. Vogel, MD, FACC, Division of Cardiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, Reviews In Cardiovascular Medicine, Vol. 3, No.1 - 2002}

For some people (e.g., those who had a heart attack) moderate alcohol use can further damage the heart muscle.
{Stephen D. Shappell, MD, - Dec. 2002}

If you are a middle-aged male, do not start consuming alcohol regularly because it will increase your risk of mortality. Men who are regular drinkers or occasional drinkers have a slight higher risk of death from other causes other than heart disease. When compared with occasional drinkers, new drinkers do not have the reduction in death from coronary heart disease or cardiovascular mortality, and they have an increased risk of death from causes other than heart disease. So the message is - don’t start now!
{‘Nutrition Hints,’ Betty Kamen, PhD, and Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, MD, Jan. 2003}

Prevention: Other Ways to be 'Heart Healthy' without Risk

"If only we could eat right, exercise, and quit smoking, studies suggest we would stamp out a mind-boggling 80% of all heart disease. If interested in protecting the heart, taking hormones shouldn't be the first line of attack."
{Susan Love, MD, Health, Jul./Aug. 1998}

A JAMA study reports that eating five to six servings of fruit and vegetables a day may reduce the odds of ischemic stroke by 31%. They appear to help prevent clot formation.
{“Fruits and Vegetables Ward Off Stroke,” The Center for Women’s Healthcare newsletter, Jan. 2000}

You don't have to drink wine to improve cardiovascular health. A new study suggests that following a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish; but low in processed foods and red meat, can lower a woman's heart disease risk by as much as 33%. The women who followed this diet also had healthier lifestyles in general; less smoking and drinking.
{"Fruits, veggies may lower women's heart risk," August 2001 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine,}

If people with heart disease learn how to manage stress they can lower their risk of subsequent cardiac events by over 70 percent.
{"Gauging Stress Management's Many Benefits," - Feb. 2002}   Editor's comment: The use of alcohol is a stress on the body, so if alcohol were avoided, this would be one stress that could be eliminated, and would be helpful for your heart as well. See Alcohol - Stress for more information.

Better, safer ways to reduce cardiovascular disease: multivitamin use is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
{Atherosclerosis - Jan. 2003}

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that walking briskly for two and one-half hours per week can cut the risk of stroke by about one-third, comparable to the benefit derived from running or jogging for an equal distance.
{Johns Hopkins Medical Letter, Health After Fifty, April 2003}

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