Alcohol rehab may reduce risk of heart disease

Alcohol addiction has many negative side effects including higher risk for heart disease. Research has shown that heavy drinkers can lower their risk of heart disease by decreasing alcohol consumption. However, there are many people in alcohol treatment who struggle with decreasing their alcohol consumption and/or completely abstaining altogether. From a self-empowering perspective, individuals can learn and implement coping mechanisms when they feel the urge to drink that will enable them to decrease their alcohol consumption or completely abstain.

Previous research shows a relationship between alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease. Low levels of alcohol consumption may reduce heart disease mortality. High levels of alcohol consumption increase heart disease mortality. Regular alcohol consumption (at low levels) may reduce risk of heart disease by increasing high density lipoprotein (HDL). Alcohol consumption may also influence heart disease risk by affecting inflammation in the body. Moderate drinking decreases c-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation), but heavy drinking increases c-reactive protein. The evidence suggests thatalcohol rehab for heavy drinkers would lower the risk of heart disease.

Some have suggested that low levels of alcohol (especially red wine) may reduce the risk of heart disease through antioxidant activity (which eliminates free radicals that may contribute to heart disease). However, alcohol itself has a pro-oxidant effect. It converts low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to oxidized LDL (oxLDL), which is more likely to cause atherosclerosis and heart disease. Finnish researchers examined the relationship between alcohol consumption and serum antibodies to oxLDL as well as c-reactive protein as an inflammation marker (Alho et. al., 2004).

The researchers recruited 280 male participants with evidence of alcohol misuse. All participants reported consuming over 280 g of absolute ethanol per week. The researchers also recruited 250 age-matched moderate drinkers from a population of Finnish men. Serum samples were obtained and analyzed for c-reactive protein, antibodies to oxLDL, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), and gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT).

Researchers compared the top half and the bottom half of the alcohol misusers to controls. The top half had higher oxLDL antibody titres compared to controls. The top and bottom half of alcohol misusers had higher c-reactive protein, HDL cholesterol, triglcerides, GGT, and CDT compared to controls. The researchers concluded that heavy drinking may cause increased inflammation that leads to the oxidation of LDL, thus increasing the risk of heart disease.

“In conclusion,” the authors write, “our results suggest that alcohol misuse has a pro-inflammatory effect, reflected by an increase in serum CRP level. We propose that through this effect, excessive ethanol consumption may result in increased oxidative stress leading to oxidation of LDL.

At any level of drinking beyond moderate, this pro-inflammatory effect of alcohol itself appears to outweigh any anti-inflammatory effects from various components of alcoholic beverages. Even though moderate drinking may reduce the risk of heart disease, heavy drinkers may need to consider alcohol rehab in order to reduce their risk of heart disease. It should also be noted that regular alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, may increase risk for certain types of cancer.

Alho H, Sillanaukee P, Kalela A, Jaakola O, Laine S, Nikkari ST. Alcohol misuse increases serum antibodies to oxidized LDL and c-reactive protein. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2004; 39(4): 312-315.