How does alcohol increase heart rate?
A 2020 meta-analysis conducted by four researchers using the Cochrane Hypertension Information Specialist found that the consumption of a single drink (defined as a 12-ounce beer, five-ounce glass of wine, or an ounce-and-a-half of liquor) resulted in, on average, a five-beat-per-minute elevation in heart rate over the course of the next six hours. Consuming two or more drinks was linked to an even more pronounced heart rate increase, and was sustained over a 24-hour period.
“Moderate to heavy drinking over an extended period of time may increase the risk of a dangerous type of irregular heartbeat in adults over 40 years of age,” says cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, DO, medical expert for American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement. “Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, occurs when the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly and can increase stroke risk fivefold if left untreated. The condition is estimated to affect 12.1 million people in the United States by 2030. Studies have linked higher alcohol consumption to increased risk of AFib.”
A significant part of the problem, Dr. Steinbaum says, is that many people do not consume enough water when drinking alcohol. “If your heart rate increases after drinking, it is most likely due to dehydration,” she explains. “To help counteract this, make sure that you are staying properly hydrated when consuming alcohol.” If you’ve been hydrating and you’re still feeling like your heart is pounding harder than usual, Dr. Steinbaum adds that you can try to slow your heart rate by relaxing. “You can try practicing simple relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or going outdoors for some fresh air. Also, make sure to avoid overexerting yourself while drinking,” she adds.
Beyond your heart rate, excess consumption of alcohol can also have adverse effects on your blood pressure. “If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may advise you to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink,” Dr. Steinbaum says. “Reducing the amount of alcohol you consume can also help to prevent high blood pressure. If you do drink, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.”
Alcohol can also have negative effects on your gastrointestinal system, changing your microbiome makeup and inhibiting normal production of digestive enzymes and juices. “Too much alcohol wreaks havoc on the gut,” explains Health-Ade co-founder Daina Trout, MS, who has a background in nutritional biochemistry. “It causes inflammation both inside and outside your digestive tract, increases your risk of infection and indigestion, and it even messes with your sleep.”
While some studies have suggested that drinking red wine in limited quantities can help to increase the levels of antioxidants in your body, Dr. Steinbaum is quick to point out that the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking wine or any other form of alcohol to gain potential health benefits.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the deleterious effects of alcohol are not a result of the occasional beverage. Negative side effects happen generally when, Dr. Steinbaum says, folks drink “more than a few times a week and/or have more than two drinks at a time.” (That being said, even a single drink can speed up your heart rate.)
Overall, experts like Trout and Dr. Steinbaum agree that in order to achieve optimal heart health, alcohol should be consumed in moderation. “Take steps to lower cholesterol, control high blood pressure, get enough physical activity, stay away from tobacco and excessive amounts of booze, and follow a healthy diet. Making lifestyle choices that decrease these risk factors is the best way to keep your cardiovascular system in optimal shape,” says Dr. Steinbaum.
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