Researchers at The Alfred have debunked the commonly-held belief that alcohol in moderation is good for the heart, finding that as little as one drink per day can put people at risk of an irregular heartbeat.
Lead researcher and Head of Electrophysiology at The Alfred & Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute, Peter Kistler, said drinking one standard drink per day could increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) – or irregular heartbeat – by seven per cent.
Atrial Fibrillation can lead to stroke or heart failure if left untreated.
The study, Alcohol and Atrial Fibrillation – a Sobering Review, followed almost 900,000 people over 12 years. The results have sparked a world-first study at The Alfred investigating whether abstinence from alcohol has any impact on patients with existing AF.
“There has been a lot of attention in recent years about the benefits of drinking small amounts of alcohol for the heart. While moderate amounts of alcohol do appear to be protective for the plumbing or blood supply to the heart muscle, the benefits of alcohol do not extend to the electrical parts of the heart or heartbeat,” Professor Kistler said.
Professor Kistler said over time, alcohol could interfere with the electrical signals between cells in the heart, triggering an irregular heartbeat.
“People who continue to consume alcohol at moderate rates may also notice their irregular heartbeats become more frequent. This is concerning, because it can lead to serious issues, such as heart failure and stroke," he said.
“So, even though we do not have randomized data that tells us what a ‘safe’ amount is to consume, people with an irregular heartbeat should probably drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day with two alcohol free days a week.”
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.