Drinking Both Helps and Hurts Heart Health, Study Says

Drinking may be risky to the heart in the short-term, but healthy over time.

According to a recent study, the hour after you drink alcohol is a risky time. But we’re not talking (solely) about impaired judgement or proclivity for dancing on tables: The research shows that people may be at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke shortly after drinking.

Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) examined data from 23 studies, encompassing 30,000 patients, to better understand how alcohol affects health. Their findings paint a complicated picture.

On one hand, regular, moderate drinking has long been linked to improved cardiovascular health in the long-term, likely because it increases “good” cholesterol levels and reduces the chance of blood clots. At the same time, though, the review found that the increased heart rate and blood pressure that immediately follow drinking may put individuals at double the risk of heart attack and stroke in the short-term, a peril that lasts longer after heavy alcohol consumption.

“This new study highlights the fact that alcohol has complex physiological effects that result in both higher and lower cardiovascular risk depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, drinking frequency and what aspect of heart health is being measured,” lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky said in a statement.

So what’s a confused drinker to do? In short: You probably don’t need to change your behavior too much. Moderate drinking is still an acceptable part of a healthy diet; it’s also still not the holy grail of heart health. As with most health questions, individuals with concerns should speak with their physicians.

“These results support the American Health Association recommendation that says if you don’t drink, don’t start in hopes of helping your heart health,” explains HSPH professor Murray Mittleman in the statement. “If you do drink, do so in moderation, and if you’re on medications or have other health concerns, talk with your doctor about whether even moderate drinking is safe.”