Posted on Nov 21, 2019, 8 p.m.
It may be time to rethink how much you drink as contrary to popular belief a drink or two per day may not be helping your heart after all, especially for those over the age of 65.
Moderation is key to many things, but when it comes to alcohol you may want to take that with a grain of salt and reconsider that stance. The evidence for moderate consumption of alcohol as being good for your heart is weak for one point, and most people have a poor grasp of what actually counts as being moderate drinking. Most people also forget that what once constitutes as a safe level of drinking changes over time because alcohol affects the body differently with age.
"In my experience, people's perceptions of what constitutes moderate drinking are not always accurate," says Dr. Monika Kolodziej, a psychologist who specializes in substance use disorders at Harvard-affiliated Mclean Hospital. People may be having one or two daily drinks, but the actual volume of alcohol in their glass is more than they realize, she says, that "one drink" may be 6 ounces of whiskey, which actually counts as four drinks. Additionally, many mixed drinks, such as martinis and margaritas, contain more than one type (and serving) of alcohol.
What is the evidence supporting it being good for your heart? Moderate alcohol use is defined as being 1 or less drinks a day for women and 2 or less a day for men; it is worth noting that these therseholds come from observational studies showing moderate drinkers tend to have lower rates of heart disease. However, most people either forget or ignore in this instance that these types of studies can’t actually prove cause and effect. Light to moderate drinkers tend to be educated and are more likely to have heart healthy habits that could explain the lower risk, and non-drinkers may have underlying health problems that may have caused them to stop drinking which can also confound results from these types of studies.
A study recently published in the journal Addiction made note of that recent large, multi country studies have been contesting the cardiovascular benefits of alcohol and suggest that the safest amount of alcohol may be zero. Even if light to moderate drinking wasn’t an issue any occasional binge drinking of more than 5 drinks over the course of a few hours will reverse any possible protective effect, according to research. More than moderate amounts on a routine basis raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation; and chronic heavy drinking leads to alcoholic cardiomyopathy heart failure.
Most often experts will focus on the effects of alcohol on young people, whose brains are still developing. Now experts are beginning to pay more attention to the harmful effects of alcohol on the aging brain; as it turns out with age the ability to metabolize alcohol declines, meaning that a drink or two when you are in your 70s will raise your blood alcohol level to a higher level than it once did when you were in your 30s.
Another forgotten fact is that with age people tend to take more medication than younger people, blood pressure medication in particular can interact with alcohol to cause lightheadedness and dizziness from low blood pressure.
The National Institute Of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the American Geriatric Society recommend that men once they reach the age of 65 should limit their alcohol intake to no more than a single drink or less per day.
A standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer at about 5% alcohol, or 8-9 ounces of malt liquor at about 7% alcohol, or 5 ounce of table wine at about 12% alcohol, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits at about 40% alcohol; a standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol.
Cultural trends are even moving towards gearing down on drinking. "Alcohol is high in carbohydrates, and the recent low-carb trend means more people are avoiding alcohol," says Dr. Kolodziej.
There is also a sober curious movement trending that encourages people to drink less or preferably not drink at all which is gaining momentum over the past year. Popularity of low or non-alcoholic beer is increasing, and you can even find non-alcoholic distilled spirits which are also being used to make mocktails in most clubs/bars which has inspired in most major cities alcohol free bras and social clubs beginning to spring up.
If you drink, even if it is only occasionally, take a few minutes to think about why you are drinking, maybe that evening cocktail is just an ingrained habit. Many people drink to relieve stress or anxiety, and to fall asleep. But once again people forget that alcohol is a depressant that can leave you feeling less motivated to cope with stress/anxiety in other more effective and healthier ways, and drinking before bed often disrupts with sleep later in the night which leads to poor sleep and stress that contribute to heart disease. The point being made here is to be aware of your habits and patterns, if you come to realize that you are drinking more than might be “healthy” for you personally, it may be time to cut back.
If you are wanting to cut back on what you are drinking try keeping a drinking diary to track your habits, dilute your drinks and drink them slowly, only drink with meals, establish alcohol free days, and keep alcohol out of your house so you are not tempted. Perhaps the most motivating factor is to think of the money you will be saving, you can even set aside that money to use it for other things like a vacation, that new techno gadget or piece of art you’ve been eyeing up, or even some concert tickets.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.