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The adage that consuming things in moderation is key piece of advice — especially when it comes to alcohol consumption. While the American Heart Association recommends one or two glasses of wine daily for good heart health, a new study says alcohol abuse is linked to several heart problems, including congestive heart failure and heart attacks.

“When we look at alcohol, we have almost glamorized it as being this substance that can help us live a really heart-healthy life,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, but who was not involved in the research. “I think, ultimately, drinking in excess leads to heart conditions, and we should really understand the potential toxicity of alcohol.”

It’s estimated that between 10 to 15 million Americans abuse alcohol, which translates to drinking in a way that negatively affects their lives. And according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, people must understand the risks involved when they abuse alcohol.

Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, director of clinical research in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco and study senior author told CNN, “One of the most surprising findings… is that people who abused alcohol are at increased risk for heart attack or myocardial infarction.”

The authors of the study researched various health databases and examined the files of more than 14 million patients, who were 21 years and older and were hospitalized from 2005 to 2009.

Of these patients, 1.8 percent — or 268,000 — were diagnosed as abusers of alcohol, meaning they admitted to having a problem with excessive alcohol use, showed up drunk for appointments or chronically had addiction to alcohol. Alcohol abuse was not considered or defined as dependence, but just excessive use that gets in the way individual functioning properly.

Alcohol abuse was linked to atrial fibrillation, heart attack and heart failure. Researchers found when alcohol abuse was associated with a doubled risk of atrial fibrillation they had a 1.4 higher risk of heart attack and a 2.3 fold increased risk of congestive heart failure.

“It didn’t matter if you had a conventional risk factor for these diseases or not,” Marcus said. “In every case, alcohol abuse increased the risk.”

The AHA points out metabolism varies from person to person. Metabolism is slower in women than men, and fat distribution and muscle mass can also affect the rate and quickness that alcohol is metabolized.

Another thing the AHA says to keep in mind: Serving sizes vary. For example, the AHA says a standard glass of wine should be between four and six ounces. However, if you go out to eat dinner at a restaurant, one glass could contain more. So the AHA says people should pay close attention the amounts that they are consuming daily.

“It becomes a very individual thing,” Steinbaum said. “The American Heart Association has given us very conservative guidelines, saying if you’re going to drink, this is how much but the big picture is alcohol in excess — and excess is more than a very minimal amount — is bad for your heart.”

 

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