Your Health Checkup: The Benefits of Cutting Out Alcohol

Eliminating alcohol from your diet might not only result in weight loss, but also lead to improvements in your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Woman refusing an alcoholic beverage
(Shutterstock)

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“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

Order Dr. Zipes’ books, Ari’s Spoon, a new novel, as well as Bear’s Promise and Damn the Naysayers, A Doctor’s Memoir. Check out his website at dougzipes.com.

Personal health often takes a back seat to contemporary world issues such as gun violence, war, climate change, economic instability, COVID, and now monkeypox with its possibility of cross species viral transmission. According to some studies, alcohol consumption has increased, perhaps to help individuals cope with these calamities.

The need to control alcohol consumption seems to pale in significance when compared to other disasters. But does it really? After all, maintaining excellent health is critical to problem solving, and the health of a single individual can have an important impact. The following two examples, one personal and the other global, illustrate that fact.

About nine months ago, I had a bout of atrial fibrillation that was electrically cardioverted. In contrast to previous (mis)conceptions that a small amount of alcohol was beneficial, the most recent and scientifically valid studies concluded that alcohol in any amount was likely harmful, with harm increasing according to consumption. Alcohol’s been identified as the single most consistent precipitator of atrial fibrillation.

So, I cold-turkeyed sharing a bottle of wine with my wife at dinner and drinking an occasional vodka before bedtime. Even though a glass (or two) of a quality Pinot Noir or Cabinet Sauvignon with a steak or spaghetti dinner, or a Sauvignon Blanc with a grilled salmon, was heaven to me, I stopped drinking all alcohol.

My family and friends have asked, “Do you feel better? Sleep better? Think better?”

The answer is no, none of those have changed. But three things definitely have: I’ve lost 15 pounds, my blood pressure has fallen 10-15mmHg, and my cholesterol and triglycerides are at all-time lows. I have written in the past about the risks of obesity, elevated blood pressure, and lipids, so I don’t need to explain again how beneficial these changes are to my overall health.

The second example comes from the compelling nonfiction book, The Daughters of Yalta, (First Mariner, 2020). Catherine Grace Katz details the Yalta meeting in February 1945 between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and USSR General Secretary Joseph Stalin. That meeting and the subsequent interactions of the big three established much of Europe’s geography after the Nazi defeat in World War II. Roosevelt was the key to blocking Stalin’s continental steal but was quite ill at the time with extreme hypertension and heart failure. He died two months later at age 63 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Katz notes that Roosevelt “appeared only half present…his cheekbones were sunken…his mouth hanging open for long stretches, sometimes staring off into the distance, his skin waxen.” Roosevelt insisted on having a gin martini before dinner, despite his doctor’s orders, which most likely added to his already advanced cardiovascular problems.

A healthy and vigorous U.S. president might have had a restraining impact that contained Stalin’s aggressive policies at war’s end. We can only speculate it would have curtailed the Soviets’ claim to many Eastern European countries and prevented the events that followed. Perhaps today’s war in Ukraine would be nonexistent.

While it’s not likely any of us will have the opportunity to decide the boundaries of European countries, we each make personal decisions that affect our own lives, as well as the lives of those around us. Good health is likely to contribute to making good decisions. The earlier healthy changes are made, the better the outcome.

So, do your part. Take care of YOU.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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