AFib and alcohol, what you need to know. Alcohol is incredibly popular and commonly consumed around the world. With almost 70% of American adults over the age of 18 reporting that they had consumed at least once alcoholic beverage in the last year, alcohol is commonly used in celebrations or as a tool for relaxation after a busy day.
But, if you or someone you love is living with atrial fibrillation, a “harmless” glass of wine or beer may be more harmful than it appears. As a known trigger for AFib episodes, understanding your risks and getting the information about atrial fibrillation and alcohol before you drink is an important way to keep yourself healthy.
Although there have been several studies in the past looking at the potential heart benefits of alcohol, particularly red wine, very different findings have been identified when it comes to atrial fibrillation.
Here is everything I want you to know about alcohol and atrial fibrillation:
How Alcohol Impacts the Body
When people drink alcohol in excess, they begin to experience symptoms of being inebriated. Caused by interactions between alcohol and the neurotransmitters in our brains, alcohol is considered to be a “depressive” substance because it suppresses the speed of brain activity. Some of the most common symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption include:
A warm feeling throughout the body
Loss of coordination
Lack of caution or situational awareness
Respiratory system depression
Loss of consciousness and even possible death
While it takes a significant amount of alcohol to induce light-threatening symptoms, long-term exposure to high levels of alcohol can cause significant damage to the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and more. Because of this, it is strongly advised that people living with existing chronic health conditions, including heart disease and AFib, should avoid or significantly decrease consuming alcohol to reduce the risk of worsening their symptoms.
How Does Alcohol Affect AFib?
The complex pathophysiological mechanisms responsible for the negative relationship between alcohol and AFib are not completely understood. While the direct toxicity of alcohol may be a primary culprit causing the worsening of AFib, it may also be secondary factors such as the connection of alcohol use with:
Disordered breathing while asleep
Holiday heart, the phenomenon of worsened AFib episodes associated with alcohol consumption at popular holidays, helps to highlight the significant health impacts that binge drinking has on our heart and overall health. However, recent research shows us that significant health impacts can come from consuming a much smaller amount of alcohol as well, especially when consumed frequently.
Atrial Fibrillation and Alcohol — What the Research Shows
In a recent study published in 2021, it was found that alcohol significantly increases a person’s risk of experiencing a heart rhythm condition within hours of consumption. While it is understood that chronic alcohol consumption elevates the risk of experiencing AFib symptoms, this important study is one of the first to prove even low levels of alcohol consumption can be dangerous for those living with pre-existing medical conditions such as AFib.
A 2021 study of over 108,000 participants also found similar findings. When comparing non-drinkers to those who drink just one alcoholic beverage a day, it was found that the alcoholic drinkers had a 16% higher chance of developing atrial fibrillation over the next few decades.
Another study conducted in 2021 also found that alcohol appears to have a near-immediate effect on our heart rhythm. This research shows that just one glass of wine or beer was associated with two times greater odds of developing an episode of AFib within the next four hours.
Alcohol and AFib: Prognostic Implications
Those who continue to consume alcohol also have higher rates of progression from paroxysmal to persistent AF, and more AFib recurrences following an AFib ablation. Research has shown that reducing or completely eliminating alcohol can also improve the success rate of an AFib ablation procedure.
In a study of paroxysmal AFib patients, 70 of 418 (17%) progressed to persistent AFib over 2.7 years. Moderate-heavy alcohol consumption (>14 standard drinks/week) was the strongest risk factor for progression. In a study of the affects on alcohol on AFib ablation, 122 patients studied undergoing afib ablation, the 1-year arrhythmia-free survival was 81% in abstainers, 69% in light-moderate drinkers (1 to 14 standard drinks/week in men, 1 to 7 standard drinks/week in women), and 35% in “heavy” drinkers.
Essential Tips for AFib and Alcohol
Despite all of this information, I understand how difficult it can be to cut alcohol out of your life completely. As a common substance used for social gatherings and with friends and families, it can be hard to remove it from your life completely even if you understand the negative health impacts. With this in mind, here are my tips about alcohol and atrial fibrillation:
Integrate non-drinking days into your schedule — Taking days off from drinking any alcohol is a great way to reduce your overall consumption. It also allows your body to recover and heal from any previously consumed alcohol.
Drink one glass of water with every serving of alcohol you consume — Staying hydrated is essential for those with atrial fibrillation. A good rule of thumb is to drink one glass of water for every unit of alcohol you consume. This helps to slow down your drinking speed and increase your overall hydration.
Practice moderation — There are going to be days where you want to celebrate and drink more than the norm. This is ok to do, but only as long as it is in moderation. Practicing non-drink days and being mindful of your numbers is a great way to still enjoy alcohol in the safest way possible.
Frequently Asked Questions About AFib And Alcohol
Can AFib Patients Drink Any Alcohol?
Yes, but in moderation. Alcohol is known to increase the risk of developing an AFib symptom immediately after consumption in both regular drinkers and non-drinkers. Understanding our risks and choosing to be mindful about your alcohol consumption is the best way to enjoy alcoholic beverages in the safest way possible.
Is there any type of alcohol that is safer for AFib patients? As for the type of alcohol I usually recommend, I usually recommend red wine as there have long been studies showing cardio-protective affects of red wine. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing as I mentioned in this article, too much red wine will likely negate any cardio-protective affects. I also usually counsel my patients to avoid beer, due to excess calories, and liquor due to higher alcohol content. In addition, there are some patients that have clearly seen that even small amounts of alcohol can trigger an AFib episode, in those patients it is usually best to completely abstain from AFib.
Will AFib Go Away If I Stop Drinking?
Because alcohol harms our heart and overall health, reducing or stopping your consumption is a great way to reduce harmful health effects caused by drinking. In a 2020 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it was shown that AFib patients who completely stopped drinking alcohol had a 20% improvement in their symptoms when compared to those who continued to drink. And while this is not definitive proof that the cessation of drinking can cure AFib, it indicates that reducing the amount of alcohol you consume will have a positive impact on your health.
Is AFib From Alcohol Reversible?
There is currently no way to 100% reverse or cure atrial fibrillation. But, for those living with the condition, reducing your alcohol consumption and making healthy lifestyle and diet choices is a great way to manage your atrial fibrillation symptoms naturally. Lifestyle modifications can lead to a significant improvement in AFib symptoms with less medications or procedures. To learn more about how to better manage your AFib symptoms, consider signing up for my free mini-course, The Ultimate Guide to Reverse AFib Naturally.
Why Does Alcohol Trigger AFib?
The pathophysiological connection between alcohol and atrial fibrillation is not completely understood. While theories propose that the intoxicating nature of alcohol is the primary cause of the increase in AFib symptoms, secondary associations like alcohol’s impact on our weight, lifestyle, and sleeping habits also play a role in the development of the disease.
How To Reverse Atrial Fibrillation Naturally
If you are interested in natural treatment options for atrial fibrillation and are highly motivated in improving your symptoms naturally, to reduce your need for medications or even procedures, then take a look at my one-of-a-kind, online educational program, Take Control Over AFib.
Lifestyle modifications and reducing inflammation are essential components of the long-term management of atrial fibrillation. Addressing the source cause of atrial fibrillation can lead to a significant benefit for most AFib patients. Targeted lifestyle modifications can reduce your symptoms, reduce your reliance on medications or procedures, and even improve the long-term success rate of a catheter ablation procedure for AFib. However, most patients are not given instructions or tips on how to accomplish these essential lifestyle modifications in an AFib targeted style.
This is exactly why I created the Take Control Over AFib Program, to give people a step-by-step plan to improve and potentially reverse atrial fibrillation naturally.
Thinking about lifestyle modifications is easy, but putting in place a system to keep you committed to achieve real results takes time and dedication, and with my step-by-step plan, we can achieve powerful and long-lasting results together.
Putting It All Together
So, as we can see, modern research into the connection between alcohol and atrial fibrillation has shown us that it may be more harmful than we first thought. But, with careful planning and moderation in mind, it is possible to enjoy alcohol safely as a person living with atrial fibrillation.
I always encourage my patients with atrial fibrillation to significantly decrease alcohol consumption and increase alcohol free days into their routine.