Although having one or two drinks a day has been shown to be healthier for the heart than abstinence, a study has found that consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time is linked to higher death rates from all causes—including heart disease.

The apparently contradictory outcomes may be due to how alcohol affects platelets in the blood, suggests a new Dutch study. Platelets are cells that help the blood clot and repair small breaks in the walls of blood vessels.

The Study

Researchers asked 20 healthy volunteers to drink three glasses of liquor or red wine in a 45-minute period. They waited another 45 minutes for the alcohol to be absorbed, and blood samples were then collected. The cycle was repeated, resulting in the volunteers consuming six drinks in three hours.

In the people who consumed hard liquor at that quick rate, platelets stuck to each other, increasing the risk of a blood clot forming.

Interestingly, study author Dr. Dylan W. de Lange of the Thrombosis and Haemostasis Laboratory of the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands, discovered that binge drinking red wine did not cause the same platelet aggregation, or sticking together, that was seen in the hard-liquor drinkers. That may help explain why red wine drinkers exhibit less heart disease

The Right Amount

The amount of alcohol that was consumed in this experiment is greater than what is recommended by experts. There still isn't sufficient evidence to determine the optimal amount of alcohol people should consume for good health, de Lange cautions.

For heart health, most experts join the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in recommending no more than one drink per day for most women, and no more than two drinks per day for most men.

"Alcohol still isn't a panacea for cardiovascular disease," de Lange says.

Alcohol May Raise Risk of Irregular Heartbeat

Alcohol consumption may slightly increase a man's risk of developing atrial fibrillation, new research suggests.

A Danish study of 47,949 people found that men who were moderate to heavy drinkers had a 25% to 46% increased risk of experiencing atrial fibrillation.

There was no similar increase in risk for female drinkers, say the researchers.

In atrial fibrillation, the two small upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating effectively, according to the American Heart Association. When this happens, blood is not completely pumped out of the chambers, so it may pool and clot. If a dot travels to the brain, it could cause a stroke.

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