independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Over one million Irish adults at increased risk of no 1 killer – heart disease and stroke due to high alcohol consumption.

Today (26.8.14) at the launch of the Irish Heart Foundation’s annual September Heart Month campaign, former Father Ted actor Frank Kelly joined heart transplant survivor and Ireland’s favourite maitre d’ John Healy and Irish actress Caroline Morahan to remind the public to ’Say When Sooner’ to alcohol and avoid preventable heart or stroke problems. The fun trio delivered a vital public reminder to all adults to take note that ’your heart can’t drink like you can’.

A new survey1 carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation measuring public awareness of alcohol consumption as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, showed that the public recognised the connection between alcohol and development of risk factors for stroke and heart problems. However a recent Health Research Board Report indicated that more than one million Irish adults are harmful drinkers (including binge drinking, consumption of the weekly limits on a single occasion or dependent drinking) and that Irish people vastly underestimate how much they drink2.

According to the Irish Heart Foundation’s Medical Director Dr Angie Brown, despite good public recognition of the effects of alcohol on the heart, too many people continue to exceed recommended limits, putting themselves needlessly at risk of cardiovascular problems which could be prevented by ’Saying When Sooner’ to alcohol.

Dr Brown said: “Sadly many people only cut back on alcohol after they have a cardiac event which is why this September our message is a reminder to adults to ’Say When Sooner’ to alcohol and prevent heart problems by drinking less and less often. The harsh reality is that high consumption of alcohol poses a particular risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, or heart muscle disease known as cardiomyopathy. We’ve even seen arrhythmias develop in young people known as ’holiday heart’ from excessive drinking and dehydration on holidays where they present with palpitations.

“Additionally the risk of stroke – both ischaemic (clot) and haemorrhagic (bleed) – increases with excessive alcohol consumption. On a positive note, people experience dramatic changes when they cut down alcohol intake significantly. Over time they lose weight, their blood pressure improves, and for some people this can mean they may no longer require medication for high blood pressure.”

The Irish Heart Foundation survey, which was carried out by Ipsos MRBI, showed that nine out of 10 respondents believed drinking more than recommended amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of stroke and eight out of 10 correctly believed that it can cause heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm). Positively eight out of 10 recognised that excessive alcohol can affect blood pressure.

According to national recommendations, women should drink no more than 11 standard drinks and men no more than 17 standard drinks a week.   A standard drink is the equivalent of a small glass of wine (100mls) a half pint of beer or lager or a pub measure of spirits. This means for example that a pint of beer is two standard drinks and a bottle of wine eight standard drinks. But only 9% of Irish adults know how much is in a standard drink.     See www.irishheart.ie for more information.

Backing the #SayWhenSooner campaign, actor Frank Kelly said: “We all know someone who has been affected by heart disease or stroke and we all know that prevention is key. This campaign isn’t saying you can’t drink alcohol at all but it is a reminder to all of us to say when sooner and prevent a serious health problem down the line.”

Los Angeles based Irish actress Caroline Morahan pointed out that when it comes to being aware of calories and potential weight gain, most people are more likely to look at food but in fact may not be aware of the calories they are consuming through alcohol. She said: “Women are always obsessing about their weight but really the focus should be on  looking after our health and well-being. Once you do that,  everything else takes care of itself.   Alcohol has a huge impact on our physical health and mental well-being.   I’m all for enjoying a few drinks and a night out, but drinking frequently and drinking too much is bad news on every level.   If we don’t cop onto this from a health point of view then maybe the fact of the calories might help drive the point home! People forget that alcohol has a lot of calories. As a woman, if I drink the maximum limit of 11 standard drinks a week at 1100 calories per week, I could gain a stone at the end of the year. For the good of our health, we need to change how we look at alcohol, starting by not viewing the maximum limit as a target.”

Best known as the Maitre D’ on TV show The Restaurant, John Healy has suffered two heart attacks in his life and is now a heart transplant survivor. A keen ambassador for the charity, John said: “Before my heart transplant life was stressful and my job consumed me. I thought I was living a healthy life but thinking back, I never really ate properly – I ate standing up and really ate as little as possible. I drank copious amounts of coffee and I smoked and up to a certain point in my life I drank far too much alcohol. When you’ve gone through something life threatening, you tend to stand back from things that happen and look at them for what they really are. The biggest lesson I learned is that I needed to take better care of myself and that is my advice to everyone around me. Take care of yourself now and prevent the worst later.”

Supported by the HSE, the public is encouraged to contact the Irish Heart Foundation for a FREE magazine, Say When Sooner, which encourages adults to explore all the lifestyle issues related to alcohol, heart disease and stroke, explains how much is too much and discusses the topic of alcohol, calories and weight. Call 1850 364 364 or download free on www.irishheart.ie