Dr. Maciej Malinski is on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital. He has been kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions related to maintaining a healthy heart. Look for additional heart information from Dr. Malinski in the coming weeks.
Q: I’ve heard wine can be good for your heart. Is there a recommended quantity/type of wine?
A: Abraham Lincoln said “It has long been recognized that the problems with alcohol relate not to the use of a bad thing, but to the abuse of a good thing.” President Lincoln was likely not thinking about the human heart when he said these words, but in hindsight, this quote absolutely pertains to heart health.
The mortality rate from coronary heart disease in France is perhaps half the rate in the United States despite similar intakes of animal fats. This has been called the “French paradox.” Since the observation of this paradox, the alcohol intake and the rate of death from heart disease have been studied in many different populations.
Generally these observational studies confirmed that low to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with cardio-protective (heart protective) benefits, reducing rate of death from heart disease. What constitutes “moderate” depends on age, sex, genetic characteristics, coexisting illnesses, and other factors. Observational studies indicate that for men under the age of 34 years and women under the age of 45 years, those who report no alcohol intake have the lowest mortality. Above these age cutoffs, weekly intakes of no more than five drinks for men or two drinks for women are associated with the lowest mortality. (A standard drink is approximately 12 to 14 grams of ethanol, which corresponds to 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80- proof liquor.)
We call it the “French paradox,” so the benefit initially was attributed to wine. At the time there were some studies showing possible cardio-protective mechanism of bioflavonoids (so called antioxidants). These chemical substances are present in many plants and are also abundant in red wine, so red wine was linked with cardio-protective benefits of alcohol consumption. But subsequent observational studies link alcohol (ethanol) itself, rather than a specific component of wine, beer, or spirits to be the major factor in conferring the health benefits, and most studies show equal protection from all types of alcohol.
So to answer your question, the ethanol present in alcoholic beverages themselves is what can benefit your heart. It doesn’t matter whether you drink wine, beer, or liquor. The importance, of course, lies in striking the right balance through moderation. The balance of harm (an increased risk of liver disease, motor vehicle crashes, high blood pressure, brain bleed, and some cancers) and benefit (a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke) determines the amount of drinks that can reduce the risk of death from heart disease. But please remember alcohol consumption is the proverbial double-edged sword, so its benefit depends on how it is used, by whom, and in what quantities.
Do you have a question for Dr. Malinski? To submit your question, either post it in the comments section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Question for Dr. Malinski.” For more information on heart health, click here to visit Sherman’s Heart and Vascular Center.
This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.