A Huge New Study Found That This One Habit Could Raise Your Heart Disease Risk by 45%

Portrait of female doctor holding cardiologist heart

A new study reveals that one habit can raise heart disease risk in women by as much as 45%—and it may make you rethink how you spend your downtime.

According to the American College of Cardiology, which conducted a study of 18- to 65-year-old adults (189,000 women) who didn't have heart disease at the time, young to middle-aged women who reported having eight or more alcoholic drinks per week (averaging more than one per day) showed a 45% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to women who drank less than that amount.

Further, women who reported drinking moderately (three to seven drinks per week) showed a 29% higher risk of heart disease than women who said they drink a low amount of alcoholic beverages (one to two) weekly.

Women in the study who admitted to binge drinking—defined here as three or more drinks in a single day within the last three months—showed a 68% higher risk of coronary heart disease than those who didn't claim to binge drink.

What does this mean for you? Let's break it down.

Related: This Is the #1 Sign That Someone Has a Healthy Heart, According to Cardiologists

How Much Alcohol Is Considered Harmful for Women?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to a single alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two drinks alcoholic drinks daily for men. The CDC considers "heavy drinking" to be more than three drinks daily for women. If you can throw it back with the best of 'em, you may want to scale it back instead.

"Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to several health problems, including liver damage, heart disease, stroke, cancer and mental health problems," Dr. Justin S. Lee, MD, a cardiologist based in Hackensack, New Jersey, says. "Women are more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol than men, even when they consume the same amount of alcohol. This is because women have a lower body weight and a higher percentage of body fat than men, which means that alcohol is more concentrated in their blood."

Dr. Lee points out that the CDC recommendation is that women limit alcohol intake to a single drink per day max, and if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should abstain from booze entirely.

"The current recommendations from the American Heart Association are to limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day for women," Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, MD, interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, says.

Related: A Huge New Study Found That a Popular Diet Is Linked With a 91% Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Death—Here's What Cardiologists Say

But Wait, Isn't a Glass of Wine Supposed to Be Good for Me?

That's highly debatable.

"Moderation can be quite subjective and can differ from one person to another. But the key element here, I think, is outlining exactly what one drink is," Dr. Lee advises. "The American College of Cardiology and the American Hospital Association suggest the Mediterranean Diet as the recommended diet to reduce risk of heart attacks and strokes, which includes a glass of red wine a day. So there is an argument to be made there, backed by some evidence."

Dr. Lee points out that this specific study doesn't necessarily disprove that theory: "Moderate alcohol intake, one glass of wine a day, for example, has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Alcohol may increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce inflammation."

That said, Dr. Lee's guide to exactly what one drink means will provide some clarity:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol by volume)

  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol by volume)

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol by volume)

That said, if you're heart health conscious, you may want to stick with mocktails, Dr. Chen says: "There have also been some recent studies which suggest that drinking any amount will increase someone's risk of heart attack or stroke."

Related: Here's Who's Most at Risk for the 'New' Type of Heart Disease Researchers Have Just Identified

Why Women Are More Susceptible to Heart Disease from Drinking Than Men

According to Dr. Chen and Dr. Lee, there are a few different elements at play when examining the role of alcohol consumption in women's heart disease risk when compared to men's. Some of these can include:

  • Smaller body size: Women typically have smaller bodies than men, which means that the same amount of alcohol can have a more concentrated effect on their blood alcohol levels.

  • Lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH): ADH is an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the body. Women have lower levels of ADH than men, which means that alcohol stays in women's systems longer.

  • Hormonal differences: Estrogen, a hormone produced in women, can increase the risk of heart disease by promoting inflammation and blood clotting.

Related: This Is the Early Heart Attack Symptom That's Missed the Most Often, According to Cardiologists

Other heart disease risk factors for both sexes can include:

  • Higher triglycerides: Alcohol consumption can raise triglyceride levels, a type of fat in the blood. High triglyceride levels are a risk factor for heart disease.

  • Increased blood pressure: Alcohol can increase blood pressure, which is another risk factor for heart disease.

  • Irregular heartbeat: Alcohol can disrupt the electrical signals in the heart, leading to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

  • Cardiomyopathy: Heavy alcohol consumption can damage the heart muscle, leading to cardiomyopathy, a condition that can weaken the heart and increase the risk of heart failure.

  • Stroke: Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of stroke by promoting blood clotting and inflammation.

  • Interaction with medications: Alcohol can interact with certain medications, including those used to treat heart disease, which can increase the risk of adverse effects.

Related: This Is the One Thing You Can Do to Ward off Heart Disease in Your 40s, According to Cardiologists

The Biggest Heart Disease Factors for Women (Besides Alcohol Consumption)

Dr. Lee notes that some of the biggest risk factors for heart disease in women include:

  • Age: Risk increases with age, especially after menopause.

  • Family history: Having a close relative with heart disease increases the risk.

  • High blood pressure: Sustained blood pressure over 130/80 mmHg.

  • High cholesterol: Elevated levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.

  • Diabetes: Type 1 or type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart disease.

  • Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and increases inflammation.

  • Obesity: Excess weight, especially around the waist, increases the risk of heart disease.

  • Physical inactivity: Lack of regular exercise weakens the heart and blood vessels.

  • Stress: Chronic stress can raise blood pressure and increase inflammation.

  • Autoimmune diseases: Conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of heart disease.

  • Pregnancy complications: Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and preterm birth can increase the risk of future heart disease.

As a result, if you have any risk factors or concerns, definitely speak with your doctor about how much drinking—if any—is safe for you and your heart.

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