Does Beer Thin Your Blood
If you’re like most people, you imagine a chemical reaction that triggers an explosion of activity in your brain’s reward center (the same area of your brain that is stimulated by certain addictive medications) and then results in all kinds of crazy behavior. But did you realize that alcohol has a direct effect on our bodies as well as our brains? Alcohol, even in little amounts, has been shown to have significant effects on the cardiovascular system.
According to a 2007 study, drinking just two alcoholic beverages per day for women and three per day for males increases your risk of coronary heart disease by more than half. Another study discovered that even moderate alcohol consumption (defined as 14 to 28 grams of ethanol per day) had unfavorable effects on triglycerides and HDL cholesterol, both of which are crucial indications of heart health [sources: Rimm et al., Neuhouser]. Another Dutch study found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol raised the risk of developing atherosclerosis, or artery stiffening.
However, researchers at St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine say they’ve identified yet another way that alcohol affects your heart. They discovered evidence that alcohol thins your blood, reducing the likelihood of platelets sticking together and forming clots. Platelets are little particles that assist keep blood from clotting into hazardous clumps that could lead to a stroke or heart attack. The researchers also discovered evidence that alcohol thins the blood to the point where it loses its ability to transmit oxygen throughout the body and to the heart muscle itself, causing organ damage.
The findings were presented at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans on Monday, Nov. 2, 2011.
Dr. Jeffrey B. Friedman, the study’s lead author, said, “This suggests that alcohol contributes to heart disease in various ways.” Although prior research suggested that alcohol thinned the blood, he pointed out that those studies didn’t look at how it altered the blood’s clotting mechanisms. His team was able to evaluate changes in platelet interactions in the bloodstream using sophisticated equipment.
They looked at 12 healthy male individuals, six of whom drank beer every day for several weeks and the other half of whom did not. All of the individuals performed tests to see how their blood reacted to various stressors, such as exercise, marijuana use, and consuming fatty foods, among other things. Blood samples were taken after each test to see if there were any changes between the groups.
The amount of big aggregation of platelets known as clusters was found to be significantly reduced after consuming beer, according to the study. This suggests that drinkers’ blood was less prone to clotting, lowering their risk of a heart attack or stroke. Alcohol makes platelets less sticky, allowing them to circulate freely through the bloodstream rather than clumping together to form clots, according to the researchers. When platelets clump together, chemicals are released that promote inflammation and interfere with the normal function of the endothelium, which lines the inside of blood vessels. As these compounds build up, they can cause plaque to form, narrowing the inner diameter of the arterial wall and limiting blood flow to the heart and brain.
Despite the fact that the study only looked at 12 men, Dr. Friedman says he hopes to conduct more research to discover if similar effects occur in female drinkers. If this is the case, it would support previous research suggesting that moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart attacks in women.
Platelets are tiny particles that occur in a variety of sizes and forms. Because they combat illness and repair harmed tissue, some scientists believe they are progenitors to white blood cells. Others feel platelets are important in preventing bleeding.
When you cut yourself, platelets congregate at the wound site and release adenosine diphosphate (ADP), a substance that causes platelets to contract and seal the wound. ADP is released once the wound has healed, prompting platelets to spread across the full surface of the blood vessel walls. These regions are densely packed with receptors that bind to collagen, the protein that makes up the major component of animals’ connective tissues. When collagen fibers are exposed to sunshine, enzymes, and bacteria, they naturally break down. Platelets adhere to collagen and release extra growth factors that encourage cell proliferation and enhance healing.
Platelets play an important role in clot formation during blood loss as a result of this procedure. When we’re under physical stress, such as from an accident or surgery, their task becomes even more important since they cease manufacturing fibrinogen, a protein that helps them do their job. Fibrinogen is a protein that is ordinarily produced by the liver and circulated throughout the bloodstream to aid platelet adhesion to artery walls. Our kidneys make too little fibrinogen during times of stress, so there are less platelets available to patch the hole created by the damaged artery. Clotting medications, such as aspirin, can also help close the hole, but they don’t provide instant relief and can have negative effects.
Friedman believes that drinking alcohol can help prevent blood loss by reducing the pace at which platelets clump together. This gives them ample time to get to the scene of the accident and repair the holes before they become too big to handle. It also inhibits platelets from forming scar tissue on the inside walls of arteries, which would otherwise entirely stop blood flow.
I’m always interested in learning about potential nutritional alternatives to standard Western diets high in saturated fats and processed sugars as someone who has spent years studying the relationship between nutrition and heart health. So, in light of the new findings, I asked Friedman’s opinion on whether beer’s advantages outweigh its risks. Yes, he believes, as long as you drink it in moderation.
Friedman told WebMD, “Beer has calories, so if you drink too much, it can raise your total calorie consumption.” “Drinking beer instead of eating makes no sense.”
I inquired about Friedman’s thoughts on the claim that beer includes vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may protect us from diseases such as cancer. He directed me to a research published in August 2010 by the National Institutes of Health, which found that moderate beer drinking lowers the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
So now you know why beer isn’t terrible for you…as long as you just have one glass every few days.
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