Myth or Fact? Acute Coronary Syndrome

Get the facts about reducing your risk of heart disease.

Health Monitor Staff
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You may have heard that drinking red wine, eating fish or indulging in chocolate can reduce your risk of heart disease. But are these statements too good to be true?

Myth or fact: Drinking red wine is an ideal way to reduce your risk of heart disease. 
Myth. Certain components in red wine, such as flavonoids and other antioxidants, may play a role in protecting your heart. Drinking alcohol in moderation also has been shown to cause a small increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol and have anti-clotting properties, which could reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. However, alcohol also tends to raise triglyceride levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

The bigger picture:

  • There are other, more effective, ways to raise HDL cholesterol than by drinking alcohol, including regular exercise or a niacin supplement prescribed by your doctor.
  • Antioxidants that help reduce your risk of heart disease can be found in many fruits and vegetables, such as red grapes.
  • Too much alcohol can add extra calories to your diet, and cause high blood pressure or dehydration.

Bottom line: When it comes to protecting your heart, red wine is not the answer. There are healthier and safer ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, such as controlling your weight, getting enough exercise and maintaining a healthy diet.

Myth or fact: Eating more fish is good for your heart.
Fact. Studies show that eating fish two times per week may help lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels. The omega-3 fatty acids, also known as DHA, EPA and ALA, found in certain fish may also reduce your risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and slow the growth of plaque that can block your arteries.

The bigger picture:

  • Some nuts, seeds and vegetable oils also contain omega-3s and provide the same health benefits as fish.
  • Certain fish high in omega-3s, such as mackerel and tuna, also may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants.
  • Those with heart disease may not get enough omega-3s through diet alone.
  • In some cases, very high intake (more than 3 grams per day) of omega-3s may cause excessive, prolonged bleeding.

Bottom line: Eating fish and other foods rich in omega-3s in moderation and as part of an overall healthy diet is a good idea.

Myth or fact: Eating chocolate is good for your heart.
Myth. Recent studies have linked eating chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, with lower blood pressure and fewer hospitalizations from heart disease. Chocolate is also rich in flavonoids—plant chemicals that may help protect your heart.

The bigger picture:

  • The flavonoids found in chocolate are not powerful enough to offset unhealthy habits that may contribute to heart disease.
  • Chocolate tends to be high in sugar and calories, which can lead to weight gain and obesity—independent risk factors for heart disease.

Bottom line: Chocolate will not single-handedly make you healthier.

October 2010