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How participating in Dry January can help your heart health

Alcohol can significantly affect multiple organs in the body and disrupt some normal patterns in sleep and blood pressure. Alcohol’s effects on blood can also affect the heart.

Frank Gaffney, M.D., is a noninvasive cardiologist with the Oklahoma Heart Institute, and director of cardiology at Bailey Medical Center. He shares three ways that lowering or eliminating alcohol consumption can change the body:

1. Lowers blood pressure

“If you are a regular alcohol consumer, your blood pressure has a tendency to trend up,” said Dr. Gaffney. “Getting off of alcohol changes that negative impact on your blood pressure.”

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. This can cause heart disease, chest pain, heart attacks and heart failure.

2. Lowers blood sugar (glucose) levels

“Even if you’re not a diabetic, when you’re consuming a lot of alcohol, you’ll have changes in your metabolism. Alcohol is a pure sugar, and if you have a lot of sugar in your diet, your insulin level is high, and you begin to store visceral fat,” said Dr. Gaffney. "Getting off alcohol drops your insulin level, drops your sugar consumption.”

Those who consume alcohol may also have elevated triglyceride levels and could also see lowered levels of good cholesterol. Both can be resolved by lowering or eliminating alcohol consumption.

3. Stabilizes sleep pattern

“People who are drinking regularly tend to have terrible sleep patterns,” said Dr. Gaffney. “Alcohol use comes with insomnia, so getting off alcohol almost immediately reestablishes people’s good sleep hygiene.”

Unstable sleep patterns can lead to unhealthy dietary and exercise habits, that can affect heart health. Insomnia and irregular sleep have been linked to increased rates of heart disease.

Alcohol can also cause an increased risk of some cancers, like breast or colon cancer, and dementia. Dr. Gaffney encourages patients to think critically about their alcohol consumption and to consider enjoying it in moderation.

“Recent data suggests alcohol consumption only has negative impacts on your health,” said Dr. Gaffney. “Everything has to be in moderation. I periodically have a social drink, that’s part of my life. Moderation is key.

Click here to learn more about the services offered at Oklahoma Heart Institute.