Group of people drinking too much

Can drinking too much alcohol stress out the heart? Yes, and here’s how:

Alcohol has a multitude of effects on the body—some good, others bad. Besides changing your mood or creating a “sea sickness” effect, too much alcohol can also cause life-threatening conditions.

In fact, drinking too much can stretch and enlarge the heart muscle. This, in turn, decreases its ability to pump blood, which is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM).

However, a new study suggests that ACM occurs more frequently in people with certain genes.

The genetic influence on drinking too much

This research sought out whether or not there was a correlation between a gene called titin and cardiomyopathy. Specifically, researchers studied people who have the faulty gene.

Titin maintains the elasticity of the heart muscle. According to the study’s press release, a faulty titin gene is already associated with dilated cardiomyopathy (a non-alcoholic version of ACM).

To dig into this topic, the research consists of two parts. First, they analyzed 141 patients with alcoholic cardiomyopathy, testing them for a mutation of the titin gene.

Interestingly, they found that over 13 percent of this group carried a faulty gene. This number is much higher than the general population as the press release states. But what does this mean? The results suggest that people with the titin mutation who are also drinking too much could at a higher risk for ACM.

In the second part, they analyzed over 700 patients with dilated cardiomyopathy. Then, they questioned them about their drinking habits. For the ones who did have a faulty gene, researchers found that these patients showed a decrease in the heart’s ability to pump.

Furthermore, the patients didn’t even need to drink that much to get there. Drinking slightly above the recommended alcoholic intake affected the heart.

Of course, the research is preliminary and raises more questions that need to be answered. Future studies need to analyze drinkers without known heart problems.

However, the results do provide a warning. Drinking too much will strain your heart, so drinking strictly in moderation is key.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in May 2018 (1).

Other negative effects of alcohol

In addition to ACM, alcohol overconsumption leads to other problems.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much can also cause heart arrhythmias, stroke, and/or high blood pressure.

Heavy drinking also weakens your immune system for up to 24 hours after. Therefore, alcohol increases your risk for infections and illnesses like pneumonia. If drinking too much becomes a habit, you’re constantly more at risk for contracting diseases.

Other effects include pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, fatty liver disease or alcoholic hepatitis.

What is drinking in moderation?

Although this study indicates a genetic influence over ACM, drinking too much is still a factor. Drinking more than the daily recommended amount is the definition of heavy drinking.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking means having no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that you should not use this number as an average over several days.

To stay within that standard, you should use these guidelines for consuming alcoholic drinks. These are examples of one drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor (rum, vodka, whiskey)

If you don’t think you can stay within these guidelines, you should avoid alcohol altogether. The study shows that any amount of increased drinking could have an effect on your body.

And it’s just not worth the price—your health.