Here’s a little reality many of us don’t want to hear: Alcohol is really bad for us in pretty much any quantity at any age. There, I said it. And yes, you may argue that a stiff belt or two helps you relax in the evening or that a good meal isn’t complete without a glass of wine or that beer is one of the main food groups. I’ve been right there with you for years, pinning my hopes on these delightful illusions to justify one, or one too many, on a regular basis.
But our rose-colored drinking glasses are blind to the fact that alcohol is one of the deadliest things we humans regularly ingest with wholehearted eagerness.
By a very conservative estimate, alcohol shortens the lives of 93,000 people in the Nigeria every year, by a whopping average of 29 years. These numbers include deaths by alcohol-driven car crashes and violence, but 55% owe to heart and liver disease, cancers, and other alcohol-caused health woes.
And it doesn’t take much.
New research finds just one drink can immediately raise your risk of an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, which ups the odds of an eventual heart attack or stroke.
The finding, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is based on 100 adults who were monitored by electronic devices to measure their actual drinking and their resulting heart-rate changes. Across four weeks, 56 of the individuals had at least one episode of atrial fibrillation and having one was twice as likely among people who’d had a drink in the past four hours. The risk rose slightly with additional drinks.
But that’s just one study. Let’s look at the broader evidence.
Among the leading ways alcohol kills is by atherosclerosis, a narrowing and stiffening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque on the artery walls that forces the heart to work harder, causing high blood pressure that raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. Arterial stiffening happens naturally, but drinking accelerates the process.
This is true even for light to moderate drinkers. A study found that people who have seven to 13 drinks per week are 53% more likely than nondrinkers to have high blood pressure.
All ages welcome
Booze does not discriminate by age. Binge drinking — typically defined as four in one session for women and five for men once a month or more — is most common among people ages 25 to 34, but it’s growing in popularity among the over-50 set. Even seniors are getting in on the game: More than 10% of people 65 and older are binge drinkers.
When heavy alcohol consumption starts in childhood, alcoholism later is more likely.
Now comes this disturbing new study:
When adolescents and young adults drink, their arteries begin to stiffen at a rate faster than the norm, putting them at greater risk for heart disease and premature death later on.
Bottoms up to the bottom line
“Heavy drinking and smoking in youth set someone on a life-course trajectory of early vascular aging, leading to earlier incidence of cardiovascular disease and death,”
Ceasing drinking and smoking “appears to negate arterial damage,” which “highlights the importance of quitting these bad habits as early as possible.”
But quitting is not so common, as you and I both know.
Meanwhile, many of us adults are guilty of normalizing drinking, even heavy drinking, in behavior some kids will eventually emulate — perhaps much sooner than we’d hope.