Booze may make the heart beat faster

A few years back, I was in a bar one Saturday night celebrating a friend's birthday. Drinks were flowing — down my neck, mainly — and I made a bit of a fool of myself on karaoke, belting out my special rendition of "Groove is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite.

As I showcased my amazing vocal talent (move over, Mariah) and some excellent dance moves to match, I lost my footing and tumbled off the stage.

Needless to say, I felt quite fragile the next day, and every time I hear that song, it takes me back to that fun, yet embarrassing, night.

Let's face it — most of us have been in a similar situation at one time or another (please, humor me).

More than half of us have had a drink in the past month, and over a quarter of us have engaged in "binge drinking."

When you drink large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time — typically at least five drinks for men and four drinks for women in the space of 2 hours — this is considered binge drinking.

Binge drinking is not deemed an alcohol use disorder in itself, but research shows that it can be a risk factor.

One study also linked binge drinking to irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. Admittedly, the study I'm referring to was conducted in the 1970s, but it seems that the evidence was strong enough to coin this phenomenon "holiday heart syndrome," inspired by the notion that we're more likely to binge drink during the holidays, vacations, and social events.

Researchers have since strengthened the link between binge drinking and arrhythmia, and I've come across a new study that adds fuel to the fire.

From studying adults who attended the Munich Oktoberfest in 2015, researchers found that the more alcohol we drink, the higher our heart rate becomes, and a heart that beats too fast — clinically known as tachycardia — can be harmful. I took a closer look at the research.

'Plausible' link between alcohol, arrhythmia

For those of you who aren't familiar with Oktoberfest, it's an annual folk festival — held in Munich, Germany — that primarily involves drinking beer. In fact, more than 6 million liters of the stuff are expected to be consumed at this year's event.

So, what better place to gather subjects and measure the effects of binge drinking on heart rate?

This is precisely what Dr. Moritz Sinner, from the University Hospital Munich in Germany, and his research team did: using electrocardiography, they measured the heart rate of 3,012 Munich Oktoberfest attendees, and they also measured their breath alcohol concentrations.

They found that the heart rates of these adults increased with the amount of alcohol they drank. In fact, for more than 25 percent of them, increasing breath alcohol concentrations were associated with sinus tachycardia greater than 100 beats per minute.

Sinus tachycardia is defined by the American Heart Association (AHA) as a "normal increase in the heart rate." So is this finding really something to be worried about?

"We cannot yet conclude that a higher heart rate induced by alcohol is harmful," says Dr. Sinner. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

"[...] people with heart conditions already have a higher heart rate, which in many cases triggers arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation. So it is plausible that the higher heart rate following alcohol consumption could lead to arrhythmias."

Dr. Moritz Sinner

Dr. Sinner points out that the people they included in this study were young — just an average age of 35 years — and healthy.

"If we conducted the same study in older people or heart patients," he reasons, "we might have found an association between drinking alcohol and arrhythmias."

Although this article is unlikely to put you off having a few drinks during your next night out, it's certainly worth being mindful of the effects a binge drinking session could have on your heart health — and your singing abilities.