The results of a 25 year study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looking at alcohol consumption and artery elasticity over 4-5 year intervals found that consistent heavy drinking (more than 4.6 oz of pure alcohol a week) stiffens arteries which increases the risk of heart disease.
The full journal article is at: http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/6/2/e005288
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Moderate alcohol intake is known to increase HDL “good cholesterol” which protects the arteries from stiffening thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease. Problem is, while a little alcohol might be good, a lot isn’t – which is what this study revealed. Drinking more than about five drinks a week, over time, causes the arteries to become less elastic. Loss of artery elasticity or stiffening of the arteries is arteriosclerosis or more commonly known as ‘hardening of the arteries.’
Stiff arteries – arteriosclerosis - increases the risk of:
- heart attack
- congestive heart failure
Bottom line, reducing alcohol intake to a moderate level may be one way to reduce the risk of heart disease from arteriosclerosis. Moderate alcohol intake, according to the study, is no more than 4.6 oz of pure alcohol per week which is equivalent to:
six 5.8 oz glasses of 13% wine a week
six 18 oz (pints) glasses of 4% ale or lager a week
four 1.5 oz shots of 40% distilled liquor a week
If you drink more than this, you might want to cut back a little. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offer these tips:
Keep track of how much you drink. Find a way that works for you - make check marks on a kitchen calendar, enter notes in a mobile phone notepad or personal digital assistant. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.
Count and measure so you can keep track of your drinks accurately. Measure drinks at home. Away from home, it can be hard to keep track, especially with mixed drinks, and at times, you may be getting more alcohol than you think. With wine, you may need to ask the host or server not to "top off" a partially filled glass.
Set goals for how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you'll have on those days. Plan some alcohol free days.
Pace and space when you do drink. Sip slowly and have no more than one standard drink with alcohol per hour. Have "drink spacers"—make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda, or juice.
Include food so you don't drink on an empty stomach. The alcohol will be absorbed into your system more slowly if there is food in your stomach, too.
Find alternatives to drinking. If drinking has occupied a lot of your time, then fill free time by developing new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, or renewing ones you've missed. If you have counted on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage moods, or cope with problems, then seek other, healthy ways to deal with those areas of your life.
Avoid "triggers." If certain activities, people, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something else to do instead of drinking.
Know how to say "no." Have a polite, convincing "no, thanks" ready. The faster you can say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of excuses to go along.
For more information see:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
How much is too much
11 ways to curb your drinking
American Heart Association
Alcohol and Heart Health
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance. For more information please see www.associatesforhealth.com To contact Dr. Hayden, email her firstname.lastname@example.org
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