Heart Health

Published on 2014-09-09

  • Heart Health

The Irish Heart Foundation is focusing on the effects of Alcohol on Heart Disease and Stroke.

Alcohol can damage the heart. Drinking more than the recommended maximum levels of alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.


The Heart:

Drinking more than the recommended maximum levels of alcohol increases your risk of developing

  • Cardiac Arrhythmias- a heart condition where there is an irregular heart rate.
  • Atrial Fibrillation- fast irregular heart rate
  • “Holiday Heart”-irregular heart rates in people, even young people, complaining of heart palpitations where large quantities of alcohol has been consumed, sometimes with caffeinated drinks which acts as a further stimulant. This combination can cause arrhythmias, resulting in palpitations and possibly causing breathlessness and dizzy spells. Usually the irregular heart rate will settle down and not reoccur, however, if regularly drinking more than the recommended amount, it can become a recurrent problem.

The Body:

Alcohol is a stimulant with varying degrees of effect on different people. For some people, small amounts can help them to relax and enjoy themselves and de stress.

High levels of drinking- i.e. drinking more than the recommended weekly limits-

  • increases your blood pressure,
  • increases your heart rate 
  • over a period of time, it has an effect on your brain and memory
  • Increases risk of stroke
  • Increases risk of liver cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure
  • Increases risk of obesity- alcohol is full of calories- leading to a further increase in blood pressure. Triglycerides level (a type of fat in the blood) start to go up.
  • Risk of nutritional deficiencies e.g. Vitamin B12 and Folate- leading to further damage to the liver, heart and nervous system.


 In Excess-

  • Is a depressant which can make you cranky and irritable
  • Dehydrates your body- acting as a diuretic, it makes you pass more urine leading to dehydration if fluid is not replaced.
  • It affects your sleep quality.
  • Can lower your blood sugar and also the sugar stored in your liver. This can leave you hungry, shaky, weak, with headaches and cravings.
  • Irritates the lining of your stomach- increasing stomach acid causing nausea and stomach pain.
  • Widens the blood vessels in your head causing headaches and light sensitivity.



Know your numbers:

Recommended Maximum Limit per week is-

Women - 11 Standard Drinks of Alcohol.

Men – 17 Standard Drinks of Alcohol.

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink is a specific quantity based on it containing 10g of pure alcohol.

A pint of Lager contains 20g of alcohol equal to 2 standard drinks. A large glass of wine could contain 2-3 standard units of drink. A bottle of wine can contain 8 standard drinks.

Drinking more than the recommended weekly limit is potentially dangerous. People don’t realise how quickly the standard drink total adds up. . It is very easy to drink a full bottle of wine during an evening, -a glass while preparing dinner, a glass during dinner and one to finish. This can bring a woman well on her way to the maximum weekly limit  of 11 standard drinks and drinking all in one go is seen as binge drinking

If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, it is best to avoid drinking altogether.

Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren’t alcoholics. They're simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years. Regularly drinking above recommended weekly limits risks damaging your health. 'Regularly' means drinking these amounts every week.

There's no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below recommended weekly limits and drink sensibly and responsibly, the risks of harming your health are low. The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The more you drink, the greater the health risks.

 Benefits of Cutting Down? 

The most immediate effects of cutting down include:

  • feeling better in the mornings
  • being less tired during the day
  • your skin may start to look better
  • You will start to feel fitter.
  • You may lose weight.

By cutting down you are making positive changes for your heart health. Align this with keeping active, eating well, keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, maintain a healthy weight, lower stress levels and where relevant quit smoking.


Alcohol contains empty Calories - a lot of calories but very little nourishment.

www.drinkhelp.ie is a useful website – it has a drink calculator that can compare your alcohol intake to the recommendations and work out how many calories your drink contains and the food equivalent.