This post was originally published on June 19, 2015.
If you’re not familiar with the “French paradox,” it’s what supposedly allows the French to eat lots of Roquefort cheese and spread plenty of Bordier butter on their baguettes without winding up with plaque-ridden arteries and heart disease. For a long while, some experts have claimed that the French avoid cardiovascular problems because of their heavy consumption of red wine, the resveratrol in the red grapes canceling out the effects of all that saturated fat.
But unless this consumption of wine is limited to no more than one glass for a gal and two glasses for a guy, the whole theory may be a complete wash. Apparently, alcohol in general isn’t as heart-healthy as we’ve been led to believe.
A Big Buzz Killer
Dr. Scott Solomon, the director of non-invasive cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, gathered some info on the alcohol consumption of 4,466 elderly folks. The doc then sent those subjects off to get ECGs and drew some interesting conclusions.
According to the data, those who drank more—anything over two drinks for men and anything over a drink for women—showed abnormalities in their hearts. Specifically, the pumping chambers in the heavier drinkers were a bit larger, which means the heart has to do more work to pump blood. And that can lead to an enlarged and weaker heart.
“A little bit of alcohol may be beneficial, but too much is clearly going to be toxic,” Dr. Solomon told Time magazine. “Once you get beyond two drinks a day in men, you get into the realm where you start to see subtle evidence of cardiotoxic effects on the heart that might over the long term lead to problems. And that threshold might be lower in women.”
Even though the study links heart malformations to drinking, the fine line between how many drinks is healthy for one person and how many are deleterious for another has yet to be determined.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Women seem to be more at risk for having alcohol negatively affect their hearts, and it’s not the difference in body mass that makes them more susceptible. Solomon suspects hormones play a major role. Great news for women! It’s bad enough they have to suffer through PMS, menopause and the brutality of childbirth. Now there’s even more crap to deal with for simply having been cursed with XX chromosomes.
At least Solomon and his team give a shit about the female gender as a whole. His first order of business for more research is to figure out why women’s hearts are more easily screwed up when they drink. He hopes that studying how the female body processes alcohol might shed some light. In addition to focusing on chicks, the research team is going to try to identify genetic factors that may put some people more at risk for alcohol-related heart problems.
The doc also hopes to figure out whether or not the effects of alcohol are cumulative, like the effects of cigarettes on smokers. If one person drinks too much for 30 years, will it fuck up their heart more than someone who’s only been drinking heavily for 10 years? Only more studies will answer that.
“What is clear is that more than two drinks a day is the point at which we start to think we are beyond the safe level for men, and with women, it’s likely to be even lower than that,” says Solomon.
What probably keeps those Frenchies heart-healthy is their general tendency to not stuff their faces with as much food as we Americans do when they sit down to eat. Smaller portions and moderation may have something to do with why they have a lower incidence of heart disease. And for us alcoholic Americans, it’s good to know we can cross off one more excuse for drinking.
There’s always the the treadmill or a Zumba class to keep our hearts in tip-top shape. Something tells me that may work better than a glass of Bordeaux.