It’s just a beer or a glass of wine, right? Maybe… but, according to an important new study, that drink could lead to serious health consequences for some individuals. Read what happened when researchers fitted study participants with both alcohol sensors and electrocardiogram monitors for four weeks. The results bring to question some previous beliefs about the effects of alcohol on your heart health.
Atrial fibrillation—commonly called “AFib”—is the medical term for an irregular heartbeat that may be rooted in the cellular level of the heart. Atrial fibrillation can lead to small amounts of scarring in the heart’s fibrous tissue, and, in serious cases, may lead to heart attack. The American Heart Association says that if the condition recurs over time, AFib also has the chance to lead to heart failure, stroke, clotting, or other serious conditions.
With the potential complications of atrial fibrillation in mind, a group of U.S.-based researchers specializing in cardiology, epidemiology, and behavioral health gathered 100 participants for a study just published in the peer-reviewed Annals of Internal Medicine. Seventy-nine of the 100 participants were male, their mean age was 64 years, and 85% were white. Fifty-six of them had experienced at least one episode of atrial fibrillation prior to the study.
For four weeks, the participants wore an electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor and a sensor that detected alcohol through the skin. Each time they consumed an alcoholic beverage, participants self-reported their intake by pushing an indicator on the ECG. Blood tests were also employed to confirm blood-alcohol levels.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers determined that a single alcoholic drink had doubled the risk of an atrial fibrillation event. Meanwhile, two drinks within a four-hour period raised the risk of AFib by three.
Lead author Gregory Marcus MD, MAS, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests this study may refute two commonly held beliefs about alcohol consumption: That regular alcohol intake is beneficial for the heart, and that it takes a lot of alcohol to produce negative cardiological effects. Those may not be so, he says.
On the upside, Marcus said this study may offer encouraging insight on preventing unwanted cardiac conditions. “Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable,” Marcus said in a statement. “Instead, there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.”
You should always speak with your doctor about any questions related to your health. For reference only, just a few possible symptoms of atrial fibrillation may be a detectable palpitation, shortness of breath, or fainting.
Sign up for the Eat This, Not That! newsletter for food and wellness news you can use.
Get more food and health news here:
Krissy is a senior news editor at <em>Eat This, Not That!</em>, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more.