Does Consumption Of A Single Alcoholic Drink Increase The Risk For Holiday Heart Syndrome (Atrial Fibrillation)?

Holiday Heart Syndrome is induced by binge drinking over the year-end holidays.  While modest drinking (especially wine) is protective against heart disease mortality, modest drinking increases the risk for fluttering in the top chambers of the heart to the point of inducing a fatal blood clot.  For the most part patients who experience atrial fibrillation don’t die from it.  Yet frightening news headlines issued today misleadingly claims a single drink of alcohol could be a mortal choice.

The term Holiday Heart Syndrome was first stated by Dr. Philip O. Ettinger in 1978 when it was first observed that heavy alcohol consumption of weekends or holidays was the main risk factor for atrial fibrillation. [American Heart Journal May 1978]

A study of more than 900,000 individuals reveals consumption of just 1 alcoholic beverage a day increase the risk of an abnormal heart rhythm by a relative 8%.  Every extra drink increases relative risk by another 8%.  [Journal American College Cardiology Dec 2016; Daily Mail Dec 5, 2016]

The relative risk for death from 1 to 15 alcoholic drinks per week only rises from 1.0 to ~1.7. In absolute numbers the increased risk of death from A-fib is very small as more alcoholic beverages are consumed.

The absolute risk for atrial fibrillation is more like 0.66 A-fib events per 1000 person-years for 2 drinks/day.  [Journal American Medical Assn. Dec 3, 2008]  That is a remotely increased risk.

Alcohol depletes zinc from the body. [Alcoholism Jan 1983] The association between zinc deficiency and atrial fibrillation is obscure.  A lone published report reveals that blood concentrations of zinc following heart bypass surgery recover more slowly among patients experiencing post-operative atrial fibrillation. [Biological Trace Element Research Aug 2012]

In my own personal experience with A-fib and among others with A-fib that I have recommended zinc supplementation, I can say that the consumption of supplemental zinc has a demonstrable impact in halting an irritable heart.  In some instances, a single dose abruptly puts a close to the problem.

Alcohol depletes the body of other essential nutrients: magnesium, vitamin B1 thiamin and vitamin A.