February is Heart Health Month

Did you know that February is heart month!? Heart month is a national campaign that was started to try and rally Canadians together to raise awareness and funds to support healthy hearts.

Heart disease and stroke are significant health problems for Canadians today; in fact, these disease take one life every 7 minutes and 90% of Canadians have at least one risk factor. Those numbers sound a bit daunting, BUT, many of the risk factors are preventable and/or treatable, including: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, physical inactivity, smoking, stress, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Yes, one of the risk factors for heart disease and stoke is alcohol consumption.

There has been a lot of debate surrounding the possible health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. You may have heard that drinking alcohol, like red wine, may actually be good for your health. Some research has even suggested that there is something called a ‘J’ shaped curve with alcohol consumption, meaning that light to moderate drinking is associated with better health relative to no drinking whereas heavy drinking is associated with the most risk. These types of findings have led many of us to believe that drinking in moderation may not only be less risky, but actually better for us then not drinking at all.

This may come to a surprise to some but when we take a closer look at this research, the alarming conclusion is that this ‘J shaped curve’ looks like just another urban health myth. Alcohol consumption is difficult to measure and studies examining the health benefits of alcohol tend to measure levels of drinking differently. Furthermore, lifetime abstainers, ex-drinkers, and individuals who stopped drinking due to a medical condition are often grouped into one big “abstainer” category. When this group gets compared to light or heavy drinkers, we are not really getting a true comparison of the health outcomes of alcohol, AND, the abstainer category may already have been unhealthier to begin to with. So, although there has been a lot of research looking at the health effects of alcohol consumption, different studies are coming up with different, and often contradictory findings. This can seem confusing and even a little irritating… but what we do know for sure is that aside from alcohol use being a possible risk factor for heart disease, it also has many other ill effects. For example, alcohol use increases one’s likelihood of injury; it can cause liver damage, nerve damage, brain damage, ulcers, and cancer. Alcohol use can also cause family or relationship difficulties, loss of productivity at school or work, and is also associated with mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. On a more global perspective, alcohol use is associated with increased crime and it is estimated that the total annual cost of alcohol is upwards of $20 billion dollars!

So, during this Heart Month, we ask you to think not just about the health of your heart, but also the health of your entire body and mind, as well as the well-being of your family, friends, and community, and make the healthy choice for a health life.