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Another reason to avoid alcohol


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Moderate alcohol used to be recommended for its health benefits, and a prominent member of the CR Society once encouraged many fellow members to follow him in imbibing. The research story of the last several years has been the growing accumulation of evidence to do just the opposite -- avoid alcohol or at least severely limit it. The following article is from the September 2021 issue of the Harvard Health Letter. -- RAS


Alcohol and atrial fibrillation

Question: I started drinking more during the pandemic. But I’ve heard that alcohol can increase the risk of atrial fibril-
lation, a condition that my mother already has. How much alcohol is dangerous in terms of atrial fibrillation?

Answer: We’ve long known that binge drinking (consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short time period) can
trigger a bout of atrial fibrillation, the rapid, irregular heart  rhythm  commonly  known  as  afib.  Doctors  refer
to this phenomenon as “holiday heart” because they see more cases of it around the holidays, when people are more likely to overindulge
in alcohol.

However, growing evidence suggests that in general, the more you drink on a daily basis, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with afib. Even small amounts
make a difference. One observational study that tracked people over an average of 14 years found that even a single drink per day—a glass of wine, a beer, or a shot of
whiskey, gin, or other spirits—was linked to a 16% higher risk of developing afib compared with not drinking at all.
For people who already have afib, alcohol appears to have a nearly instantaneous effect on their heart rhythm, according to a recent study. People in the study wore
heart rate monitors and special ankle sensors to measure their alcohol intake. Researchers found that a single drink doubled
the odds of a bout of afib occurring within the next four hours.

In yet another study, researchers created three-dimensional structural maps of the left
atrium (one of the two upper chambers of the heart) in people with afib. Compared with
light drinkers and nondrinkers, moderate drinkers had more evidence of scarring and
electrical signaling problems in their atria. The severity of those problems was directly linked
to the severity of afib among the participants. The bottom line is that even small amounts
of alcohol may harm your heart, which is why avoiding alcohol or limiting yourself to an
occasional drink on special occasions may be the safest approach
. [emphasis added --RAS] Alcohol use
is linked to many other health threats, including car accidents, violence, high
blood pressure, and various cancers, and the risks rise in tandem with the amount
you drink.

By the way, afib does appear to have a genetic component, although the degree
of added risk to family members of people who have afib isn’t entirely clear. As for
other ways to lower your personal risk, maintaining a healthy weight and getting
regular exercise can help.

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