You’re out with friends enjoying a few holiday cocktails when you suddenly feel lightheaded and need to sit down. You might not realize it, but you’re experiencing the effects of alcohol on your vascular system.
In addition to being a depressant, alcohol dilates the blood vessels. So, when you’re standing at a party or social setting, blood often pools in the vessels in your feet instead of being pumped back to the heart.
The result can be feelings of lightheadedness, nausea and over-heating (known as pre-syncope), which are exacerbated by alcohol. To prevent these symptoms, minimize alcohol intake and move around to encourage blood flow to the heart, thus reducing your chances of passing out entirely.
Drinking alcohol in moderation, along with an overall healthy lifestyle, is acceptable for most individuals, says Dr. Michael Shea, who specializes in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease at the University of Michigan. “Moderation” is defined by the American Heart Association as an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
According to the AHA, a drink is:
12 ounces of beer
4 ounces of wine
1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
What are the dangers of too much alcohol?
However, Dr. Shea warns, non-drinkers should not start drinking based on this information. “Too much alcohol can cause direct damage to heart cells as well as nutritional and vitamin deficiencies.” So the answer to the question “Can alcohol cause heart damage?” is yes, if you drink too much of it. In addition, drinking alcohol can lead to alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents, so moderation is critical.
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