Sometimes when I am out for dinner at a restaurant, people who are aware of my heart condition make the observation that it should be okay for me to drink wine. I think this is because there have been a number of studies that indicate that wine is good for the heart. My recollection is that this started in the 1980’s with a study known as the French Paradox.
There have been many articles written about the French Paradox since the 1980s, most of the articles analyzing rather than explaining what the paradox is/was. But I found a good explanation on the website for the American Society for Nutrition (nutrition.org). According to the first two paragraphs of an article by Stefano Vendrame:
So where do I fall in the debate over the French Paradox. I usually decline a glass of wine (mainly because I just am not fond of the taste of wine). I was a Bourbon drinker from way back. But now, I drink alcohol very cautiously. Here are the reasons for my vigilance.
I listen carefully to what my doctor says and I read very carefully all the literature I can find on heart failure. I specifically search for information about things I should do to strengthen my heart and things I should generally avoid. I also mull over the reasons that accompany each piece of information I am provided so that I understand the implications of ignoring the medical advice.
I remember having a conversation with my heart failure doctor about an individual who was an alcoholic and also had heart failure. The doctor told me that the best thing that this individual could do was to stop drinking alcohol. My doctor is in good company in advising heart failure patients to avoid alcohol.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I take the new heart failure drug Entresto, and I am also a member of the Entresto Central Support Program. The program has sent me a wealth of helpful, information packets that are easy to understand. One of those packets has a paragraph devoted to “avoiding alcohol”. It says:
Note: The reference to being a liquid relates to the general advice for heart failure patients to limit fluid/liquid intake. If you can only have so much fluid, well it stands to reason that the majority of it should be water and not something intoxicating and even dehydrating.
The Mayo Clinic website, one of my go to sites for heart health information also has a very informative article on the benefits and issues associated with drinking red wine. The article is entitled: “Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart?”. The article basically covers the theories of why drinking red wine in moderation may help some individuals avoid coronary artery disease, the condition that can lead to heart attacks. The reason apparently is related to a substance in red wine called “resveratrol”. Notice that I said how it may help “some” individuals. Why is this qualification important?
Well first, the Mayo Clinic wants to avoid encouraging those who do not drink from starting to use alcohol especially if they have history of alcohol abuse in their family. As the article reminds us, too much alcohol can have “harmful effects on your body”. In the section entitled Drink in moderation - or not at all, the article states: “However, it's important to understand that studies comparing moderate drinkers to non-drinkers might overestimate the benefits of moderate drinking because non-drinkers might already have health problems. *** Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.”
The article ends with the observation that drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of other conditions, which include the condition of heart failure. So if it can increase the risk that you will get heart failure, imagine the damage that can result if someone with heart failure drinks too much? The article concludes with the familiar advice: If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.
The American Heart Association webpage also has some helpful information on drinking alcohol when one is suffering from a heart condition. In the article entitled “Alcohol and Heart Health” there is a section on the cardiovascular risks associated with drinking alcohol. It says:
Again, I already have heart failure which apparently is the result of a significant cardiomyopathy. So it would seem doubly foolish for me to drink heavy amounts of alcohol.
I also found similar guidance about alcohol use at the website UPMC.org, which appears to be the affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. On the page for UPMC health beat, which is associated with a heart and vascular institute, there is a February 2018 article entitled 5 myths about red wine and heart health. It says:
So in preparation for my cruise, where food and alcohol flow like water, I did what the websites suggest. I consulted my heart failure doctor. He was okay with me having one modest drink each night. Since I was seasick once and tired a couple of nights, I didn’t even drink each night – so once again, I stayed within reasonable limits, but I still enjoyed myself. I determined that the important thing wasn’t what I was drinking, but who I was sitting with. I traveled with a group of 11 other people, and we were always laughing and enjoying life on the boats. While liquor is nice, I found the camaraderie of good friends to be more refreshing and invigorating than anything served from a bottle.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, my former drink of choice was good Bourbon and water. But that seemed a powerful drink for someone who isn’t a big drinker at this point in her life. So I went with a modest serving of Amaretto for my regular drink. This is a nice liqueur, allegedly the best selling alcohol from Italy and it comes with a lovely legend. The Delicious magazine website (deliciousmagazine.co.uk), has a webpage devoted to All About Amaretto. It says:
Amaretto tastes good and it has a lovely story –how could I go wrong?
So what I have learned when it comes to alcohol is that like everything else in my life, it requires forethought and planning. It is another example of how I need to make sure that my life is always in balance with my heart –especially when the extra care I observe will ensure that I do not lose balance on the cruise ship’s dance floor from an excess of distilled spirits and wine!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.