One drink a day can harm heart

By Shayna Brouker • Published: April 1st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and if you’re one of the twenty-nine percent of Americans who choose to refrain from drinking, raise a glass of a (non-alcoholic) beverage to your good health.

Research on alcohol produces news on both sides of the fence: Sipping a glass of red wine every night serves a healthy dose of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and moderate drinking can even keep waistlines in line. But on the other hand, too much imbibing could lead to dangerous heart disease, or brain damage. Alcohol abuse can weaken the immune system, not to mention, influence embarrassing behavior.

But are there any real risks to sipping a cocktail on occasion? There may be. The latest research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, provides the first solid evidence that even light drinkers are more likely to develop potentially deadly atrial fibrillation than teetotalers. Atrial fibrillation is a common condition in which the heart slips into bouts of fast, irregular heartbeats. While the disorder may or may not show symptoms, it could lead to shortness of breath, chest pain, heart failure and stroke.

Reviewing the drinking habits of more than 130,000 people, scientists compared the risk of atrial fibrillation in once-a-day drinkers against those who drank more. The study found that each drink actually increases the risk of developing the disorder by eight percent. The researchers counted one drink as having 10 grams of alcohol, which is about one third of an ounce.

The real question is how does habitual boozing burden your heart? Experts believe alcohol itself might be to blame and might actually cause biological changes in the heart. Whatever the reason, many scientists agree on one thing: No drinks are better than one.

However, if you choose to cap your night off with a drink, remember this: Moderation is key to keeping your heart happy.