Here’s a fun fact: Knocking back a few cold ones, or enjoying a cocktail or two, has been shown to possibly help with heart health by increasing the amount of HDL (aka “good cholesterol”).
But if you go overboard—meaning more than one or two drinks a day (one drink is 12 oz beer, 4 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of 80 liquor)—you increase the risk of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, suicide, and accidents, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Here’s why: Besides all those not-so-healthy consequences of drinking too much, heavy drinking may also stiffen the walls of your arteries, which then in turn leads to reduced blood flow and increased risk of heart disease. In the study, researchers analyzed the drinking habits of almost 4,000 U.K. residents during a 25-year span. They found that moderate drinking does link with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, but that heavy drinking, which they define as more than 3.9 ounces of pure alcohol per week, has the opposite effect.
Why alcohol makes arterial walls stiffer is unclear, said the study authors. “It’s been suggested alcohol intake may increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels—the good cholesterol—or decrease platelet stickiness,” said Darragh O’Neill, Ph.D., lead study author. “Conversely, heavier alcohol intake may activate certain enzymes that would lead to collagen accumulation, which could, in turn exacerbate the rate of arterial stiffening.”
The study excluded anyone with a history of heart disease and few of the people studied smoked, but they found that men were more likely to be heavy drinkers and 68% of the men didn’t meet the recommended weekly workout guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Solution? Lighten up on the booze and make sure to keep your ticker kicking. Heck, some guys manage to do both at almost the same time.