Studies have shown that adults who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who do not drink at all or are heavy drinkers. Persons who do not drink alcohol should not start just because they want to avoid developing heart disease.
Health and wine: Wine and heart disease: Preventing heart disease - wine; Preventing heart disease - alcohol
There is a fine line between healthy drinking and risky drinking. It is not recommended that you begin drinking or drink more often just to lower your risk of heart disease.
Health care providers recommend that if you drink alcohol, drink only light to moderate amounts:
For men, limit alcohol to 1 to 2 drinks a day.
For women, limit alcohol to 1 drink a day.
One drink is defined as:
4 ounces of wine
12 ounces of beer
1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits
1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
Heavier drinking can harm the heart and liver. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in people who abuse alcohol.
Alcohol may help the heart when used in light to moderate amounts:
Increases the amount of HDL ("good") cholesterol
Decreases the chance of forming clots in blood vessels
Increases antioxidant activity (red wine contains antioxidants called flavonoids)
Though research has found that alcohol may help prevent heart disease, much more effective ways to prevent heart disease include:
Anyone who has heart disease or heart failure should talk to their health care provider before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can make heart failure and other heart problems worse.
United States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.
Brien SE, Ronksley PE, Turner BJ, Mukamal KJ, Ghali WA. Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies. BMJ. 2011;342:d636.
Lange RA, Hillis LD. Toxins and the heart. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 73.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.