For most individuals, using alcohol will have a negative or neutral effect on their cardiovascular health. The popular belief that alcohol is good for the heart isn’t something we see in clinical practice. It’s not to say that you should stop drinking. Those who are at risk of heart disease should reconsider their alcohol use. Heart rate and alcohol are closely tied, and we know that alcohol decreases heart rate variability.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems regulate the rate of the heart. The goal is to have a low resting heart rate with good heart rate variability (HRV).
For an in-depth discussion of heart-rate variability, I recommend this podcast episode by Dr. Attia. There, he discusses HRV in much more detail. But remember that just because your HRV isn’t optimal doesn’t mean you will suffer ill cardiovascular health.
Back to heart rate. If you are a tech nerd, you know that your heart rate changes whenever you drink alcohol. Commonly you’ll notice that it’ll be higher than usual and you’ll have decreased variability between beats – decreased HRV, which is less favorable.
Some of my clients binge drink, and others rarely drink. In this spectrum, there are those who drink moderately and those who drink several drinks per day.
It also matters the type of alcohol you drink, how dehydrated you get when drinking, and the quality of the beverage. So much to consider, no doubt.
I remain convinced that occasional alcohol use isn’t an issue. But binging on weekends or drinking daily is more challenging for the body to handle.
Resting Heart Rate
It’s hard to ignore my patients who enjoy excellent heart health and the association with their low resting heart rate.
Alcohol and resting heart rate have been studied in detail in the literature. Consuming alcohol regularly seems to increase the resting heart rate.
We work to decrease their consumption for my clients who are at risk of atrial fibrillation or heart failure. And for those who cannot cut down, we develop a strategy to consume alcohol in more ideal circumstances.
What is heart health or cardiovascular health? Well, it’s how well your heart and blood vessels function. And it depends on how well you want them to perform. Health, after all, is a personal journey.
When I consider my client’s heart health, I think of the following:
- blood pressure
- arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation
- peripheral vascular disease
- congestive heart failure
- heart attacks
- exercise capacity
Heart health and alcohol are closely linked to HRV. Furthermore, the rhythm of the heart is closely tied to alcohol usage.
Specific individuals are far more susceptible to this, while others can drink alcohol without changing their cardiovascular health.
The best way to find out is to use devices like the Polar to determine your HRV and experiment with how late-night eating or alcohol impacts your values.
Timing Alcohol Usage
The time of day when you drink alcohol matters. Also, how hydrated you are and your stomach content are important factors.
Whenever possible, I recommend drinking alcohol with a meal and heavily hydrating after alcohol consumption. This helps with the clearance of this compound from the system.