You may have heard that a glass of wine lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Having one alcoholic drink a day has been deemed by some as “heart-healthy.” It’s an easy message to believe! Enjoying a beer with friends or preparing a cocktail at the end of a long day has become an accepted way to socialize and de-stress. But can you drink alcohol if you have AFib?
Research around alcohol use and heart health can be confusing. Although some studies show that people who consume one or two drinks per week live longer and have fewer heart attacks and strokes than non-drinkers, alcohol is a no-no for those with intermittent AFib.
Can alcohol trigger AFib?
New research puts a hard stop on the casual approach to drinking, especially for those with abnormal heart rhythms. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that even one alcoholic drink significantly increases the risk of throwing the heart into AFib.
The study enrolled 100 participants who had been previously diagnosed with AFib. The subjects wore a portable heart monitor that tracked their heart rhythm, as well as an ankle sensor to detect alcohol. Participants pressed a button on the heart monitor every time they drank alcohol.
Over half of the participants, 56 to be exact, had at least one episode of atrial fibrillation during the four-week study. The study found that one alcoholic drink doubled the chances of going into AFib within four hours of consumption. Those who consumed two or more drinks were three times more likely to go into AFib.
“Contrary to a common belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcoholic drink may be enough to increase the risk,” said Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, professor of medicine and lead author. “Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable. Instead, there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.”
This study is not the first that points to the impact of alcohol consumption on AFib. For example, a study published in the January 2020 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine found that abstinence from alcohol reduced the risk of going back into AFib for those diagnosed with arrhythmia.
These studies demonstrate that alcohol can indeed trigger AFIB. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation, including reducing or eliminating alcohol from your diet.
Why does alcohol cause AFib?
Eating certain foods can trigger heart arrhythmias, such as AFib. This is because the body’s organ systems are intricately connected, woven together through a complicated system of multiple nerves. The heart and the stomach share many of the same nerves. For example, the nerves that innervate the left atrium of the heart also serve the gut.
The autonomic nervous system sends messages from the brain to the organs, which, in turn, sends messages back to the brain. Eating a large meal, spicy food, a sparkling drink, or alcohol can tickle the nerve fibers in the stomach, signaling increased activity in the cardiac nervous system of the heart.
Alcohol is also a known diuretic, meaning that it causes the body to eliminate water, often leading to dehydration. A dehydrated body results in an imbalance in electrolytes. While a healthy person can often compensate for a slight electrolyte imbalance, those predisposed to heart problems sometimes can’t, often resulting in Afib.
Can I drink any alcohol with Afib?
The link between heavy drinking, or binge drinking, and alcohol is well-established. Often deemed “holiday heart syndrome” due to the spike in cardiac problems from the tendency to overindulge during the holidays, binge drinking is a significant trigger for Afib.
The evidence that occasional or light drinking impacts AFib is gaining more and more traction. As a result, experts recommend that people with a history of AFib avoid alcohol altogether. And certainly, those currently experiencing symptoms of AFib should steer clear of any alcohol consumption.
The decision of whether or not to drink any alcohol is personal. Everyone processes alcohol differently, and what triggers one person may not affect another. Additionally, the stress-relieving benefits of an occasional glass of red wine might outweigh the dangers for some. Only you and your doctor can determine what’s right for you.
Can alcohol-induced AFib be reduced?
The good news about alcohol-induced AFib is that there is a chance that you can reduce or even eliminate AFib by simply avoiding alcohol. In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that abstinence from alcohol resulted in much lower incidences of AFib.
Old habits die hard, and lifestyle changes can be challenging to make. However, for those willing to forgo alcohol, the rewards for the heart may be worth the trade-off.
What kind of alcohol can I drink with Afib?
If, together with your doctor, you’ve decided that an occasional alcoholic drink is safe, we recommend no more than one or two glasses of quality red wine a week. Studies have found that resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in grapes and red wine, may reduce the incidence of Afib.
Keep in mind, however, that not any red wine will fit the bill. Today’s wine is often filled with pesticides, preservatives, GMOs, and other additives, many of which could impact your AFib more than the wine itself. So if you are going to indulge in an occasional glass of wine, make sure it’s organic, non-GMO, and free of sulfites, preservatives, and added sugar.
And, if you love a tasty drink, there are many alternatives to alcohol. Below are a few of our favorites!
Remember, always use organic ingredients. Reducing your toxic load lowers your risk of AFib.
Maple Ginger Spritzer
Prep time: 10 minutes (less if you make the syrup ahead of time!)
This delicious and refreshing beverage has the added benefits of fresh ginger, a natural blood thinner. (Be careful with ginger if you are currently taking oral anticoagulants.) The splash of maple syrup adds a unique sweetness, making this the perfect after-dinner dessert.
- Maple ginger simple syrup
- Juice from 1/4 of an orange
- Juice from 1/2 a lemon or lime
- 1 tsp grated ginger + more for garnish
- Sparkling water or seltzer
Maple ginger syrup
- Use one part maple syrup to one part water (adjusting for how much you want to make).
- Place both ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Bring to a simmer, and turn the heat to the lowest setting.
- Add grated ginger to syrup and simmer on low for another 3-5 minutes, or until maple syrup has fully dissolved in the water.
- Allow maple ginger syrup to cool completely. (Hint: You can make your simple syrup ahead of time and keep it in the fridge.)
Maple ginger spritzer
- Place 1/4 cup of cooled syrup, lemon or lime juice, orange juice, and simple syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake well and pour over ice in a cocktail glass.
- Top off with sparkling water or seltzer for a nice fizz.
- Garnish with a lemon twist and sprinkle of grated ginger.
Avocado Pina Colada
Prep time: 5 minutes
If you can’t sit in the sun on a warm beach, bring the sunshine to you in a glass. This avocado pina colada is a nutritional powerhouse filled with healthy fats to help support your cardiovascular system.
- 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
- One 15 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 medium ripe avocado
- Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lemon
- 1 cup of ice
- 1 cup of water
- Optional: 1 tsp of maple syrup or honey (adjust to taste)
- Place frozen pineapple, coconut milk, avocado, lemon juice, and ice in a high-speed blender.
- Turn on the blender and slowly add the water until you reach the right consistency.
- Serve in a cocktail glass garnished with a fresh pineapple slice or lemon wedge.
Green Tea Sangria
Prep time: 2-12 hours (or preferably overnight)
Green tea has multiple benefits for the heart, including lowering the risk of AFib. In addition, it’s packed with polyphenols, a rich antioxidant that reduces inflammation throughout the body.
The great part about this drink is that you can substitute the fruit for whatever is in season or suits your preferences. The same is true for the juice, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
Green tea concentrate
- 2 Tbsp green tea leaves
- 2 cups water
- 1 large apple, cored and cut into chunks
- 2 lemons, sliced into thin rounds
- 2 limes, sliced into thin rounds
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 cup of fresh apple juice, no sugar added
- Sparkling water such as San Pelligrino
Green tea concentrate
- Make the green tea concentrate by pouring boiling water over green tea leaves. Steep for about 5 minutes.
- Strain, cool to room temperature, then put into a glass jar.
- Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Optional: If using honey or maple syrup, add the honey after step 1, allowing it to dissolve completely before making the sangria.
- Layer the cut-up fruit and cinnamon sticks in a glass pitcher.
- Add juice, adjusting the amount for taste. (Note: If you sweeten your tea with honey, go lighter on the juice.)
- Add cooled green tea.
- Stir the mixture and allow it to sit for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
- When ready to enjoy, pour into a cocktail glass. Leave room for the sparkling water.
- Top with sparkling water to taste.
Excessive alcohol consumption and AFib don’t mix. However, with so many delicious and healthy alcohol-free alternatives available, including the easy drinks above, it won’t be long before you don’t miss your evening nightcap at all! If you and your doctor decide that the occasional glass of wine is safe, always choose quality, organic wine from a reputable vineyard.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Jack Wolfson D.O, FACC