In the wake of the National Institutes of Health deciding to withdraw funding for a study aimed at assessing moderate alcohol consumption and cardiovascular risk/benefit, I thought the timing could not be better to elaborate upon alcohol consumption and the heart. I tell my patients that alcohol is a double-edged sword when it involves the heart. On the one hand, complete abstainers (or teetotalers), are at higher risk of heart disease than moderate drinkers. Yet on the other hand, too much alcohol causes a number of problems ranging from abnormal heart rhythms (such as atrial fibrillation) to enlarged hearts and heart failure. Clearly, a moderate amount of alcohol represents the “sweet spot” for keeping hearts healthy and enjoying alcohol’s protective effects (see below). For women, that sweet spot is ~3-5 servings of alcohol each week (for men ~6-10 servings). One serving of alcohol consists of a 4-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce bottle of beer (or a pint of Guinness due to lower alcohol content) or a shot of your favorite spirits. Even though, any type of alcoholic beverage in moderation is protective to the heart, red wine and dark beer may offer a slight advantage due to the higher content of antioxidant polyphenols.
[Full disclosure….I’m a big fan of Guinness beer and Maker’s Mark bourbon].
Here are several heart health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
- Raises HDL (the good cholesterol): A high level of HDL (60 mg/dL or greater) is most protective to the heart when no major cardiovascular risk factor is present (cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol); moderate drinking boosts HDL levels ~5-15% on average.
- Reduces blood clotting: Alcohol reduces clot buildup by inhibiting platelet aggregation. However, excessive alcohol consumption (4 or more drinks daily) may increase the risk of serious bleeding, including a brain hemorrhage.
- Reduces risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Moderate alcohol consumption lowers fasting insulin and HbA1c concentrations in men and women at increased risk of diabetes. In women, moderate alcohol intake also improves insulin sensitivity.
Light drinkers (1-3 drinks per week) also derive health benefits; a new study out this week found that lifetime light drinkers had a reduced risk of cancer. This extends prior work finding that heavy drinkers exhibited increased risk of several cancers including head and neck, breast, esophageal, liver and colorectal cancer.
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA where he takes care of patients, conducts original research and teaches at the medical school. His bestselling book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” is also Amazon’s #1 Rated book in Heart Disease.
Ironically, one of my favorite Beatle songs, “Strawberry Fields Forever“, is not about strawberries. Rather it’s the name of an orphanage in the neighborhood where John Lennon grew up. His verse, “cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields…
nothing is real” could not be further from the truth when it comes to strawberry gardens that produce incredibly delicious, healthy and mood boosting fruits. In fact, June is strawberry season in Maryland so be sure to check out our Farmer’s Market selections. Here are some other reasons why you should eat at least 1 handful of strawberries each day:
1. Strawberries are loaded with fisetin: This antioxidant flavonoid helps to reduce cellular aging and improve memory.
2. Strawberries are an excellent source of catechin: Another powerful antioxidant that helps to expand blood vessels and may lower blood pressure.
3. Strawberries may reduce risk of a heart attack: 1 study in middle aged women found that the combination of strawberries and blueberries consumed at least 3 times a week reduced risk of a heart attack by 30%!
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA where he takes care of patients, conducts original research and teaches medical students. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” and check out Dr. Miller’s author page on Amazon.
Few foods are as popular at cookouts than sweet corn-on-the-cob. And contrary to popular belief, the glycemic index (how quickly a food is processed into glucose) for sweet corn is not high (less than 55) and similar to a mango or firm banana (see last week’s post). Click here for a list of foods low and high (above 70) on the glycemic index per Harvard Health. In addition to taste, corn provides important nutritional properties that benefit your heart and mind.
- Eye health: Corn is a rich source of the pigment antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin that help to protect eyes from age-related processes such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Anti-Cancer properties: Cooking corn-on-the-cob releases the powerful antioxidant, ferulic acid, that has been shown exert anti-tumor activity against breast, lung and colon cancers.
- Gut Health: Corn-on-the-cob contains ~3 grams of fiber (8-9% of the recommended daily allowance) to help promote digestion by establishing a healthier gut microbiome.
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA where he takes care of patients, conducts original research and teaches medical students. His latest book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” has been Amazon’s #1 Rated book in Heart Disease for 3 years running.
Although often shunned by low carb advocates, bananas provide a power punch of vitamins and minerals that make this fruit a staple for my patients interested in overall health. While a medium sized banana contains 100-110 calories including a reasonable number of carbs (26-28 grams/ 3 grams of fiber) you may be surprised to learn that the number of carbs is not different when compared to a medium sized apple or pear. Importantly, the type of carb in a banana (simple/complex) depends upon firmness and ripeness. Unripe or green bananas contain “resistant” starches that are processed into sugars at the slowest rate. This is followed by firm yellow bananas that I recommend to my patients based on taste and relatively slow conversion to blood glucose. Soft or overripe bananas have a higher concentration of simple sugars than firmer bananas, lead to a more rapid increase in blood glucose levels and should be avoided if you have diabetes. I also recommend refrigeration for yellow (not green) bananas to prevent them from becoming too soft and overripe. In addition to the health benefits of fiber on digestive health, there are other reasons why bananas should be consumed daily (see below). Perhaps we should add “a banana a day” to “an apple a day”…. to keep us MDs away!
- Potassium and Magnesium enriched: A medium-sized banana contains 422 mg of potassium and 32 mg of magnesium, ranking it 5th among top fruit sources for potassium and 3rd for magnesium. (See the complete list in “Heal Your Heart…”).
- Folate and Vitamin B6 enriched: Once again, bananas rank among the highest in content of these important vitamins that help to boost mood by regulating dopamine release and increasing brain levels of serotonin that in turn also help to ward off depression.
- Antioxidant enriched. Bananas contain a host of antioxidants including the flavonoids, catechins, quercetin and rutin, 3 compounds with potent anti-inflammatory properties that combat tumor cells and promote cardiovascular health.
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA where he takes care of patients, conducts original research and teaches medical students. His most recent book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” has been Amazon’s #1 Rated book in Heart Disease for 3 consecutive years.