Even light and moderate drinkers are at risk of a hidden danger during the holiday season for something called “holiday heart syndrome.” Many of us enjoy back-to-back gatherings of open houses, brunches, dinners, and simple invitations for cocktails with friends and families. This opens the door for increased alcohol intake over many hours in a single or consecutive days. You might not even realize how many glasses of wine, champagne, or beer you are enjoying, but for some people it can trigger heart arrhythmia — or as the Harvard Heart Letter calls it, your heart rhythm can go “haywire.”
Researchers at the University of Coimbra in Portugal looked at articles published about Holiday Heart Syndrome since it was first identified in 1978 by a doctor who noticed that the incidence of heart rhythm disturbance was higher after weekends and holidays. Their review found that increased alcohol intake can interfere with the heart’s conduction ability which might trigger prolonged heart palpitations or other some other symptoms associated with cardiac arrhythmias.
There is also some evidence to suggest that overeating also plays a part. Eating a large amount of food stretches your bowels and can trigger our parasympathic nervous system; in some people this can cause small areas in the upper chambers of the heart to beat very fast leading to the abnormal heart rhythm. And lastly, heavier salt intake at the holidays can cause problems for those with a history of high blood pressure, heart valve problems, or heart failure; the increase in blood pressure and higher amount of fluid in the body stretches the upper heart chambers and atrial fibrillation (an irregular, rapid heart rate that causes poor blood flow to the body) develops.
Simple tips to help you avoid “Holiday Heart Syndrome.”
1. Make sure you travel from social occasion to social occasion with several bottles of sparkling water to mix with things like cranberry juice to make festive drinks to enjoy in between alcohol drinks.
2. If you are hosting a party, have lots of seltzer water and alcohol-free beverages and/or “mocktails,” available to your guests at your holiday gatherings. I’ve included a great non-alcoholic, Sangria recipe below to help you and your guests cut down on the alcohol consumption while eating a little healthy fruit too!
3. Eat a well-balanced, healthy meal and drinks lots of water before heading out to a holiday gathering so you will be less likely to overindulge in alcohol and food.
Even without the alcohol, Sangria includes a gorgeous collection of healthy fruit that gets ladled into each glass. The presentation is extremely festive, making it perfect for holiday times. This nonalcoholic version is almost as good as the real thing! The liquid is a combination of black tea and pomegranate juice, which approximate the sweetness, acidity, and tannins of red wine. It’s a beautiful substitute both flavor and color-wise, although caffeine does of course have a more stimulating effect than wine. Also included is a little fresh orange juice for sweetness and cinnamon sticks for subtle spice.
2 cups boiling water
2 black tea bags (or 2 teaspoons loose-leaf tea in an infuser)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Sliced into thin rounds : 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 lime
1 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half
1 apple, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 cups carbonated water
Pour boiling water over tea bags and cinnamon sticks and steep for 5 minutes. Discard tea bags and stir in sugar to dissolve. In a large jar or pitcher, combine tea, cinnamon sticks, pomegranate juice, orange juice, orange, lemon, lime, and apple. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight. Just before serving, stir in carbonated water to taste—add more sugar if needed.
Harvard Medical School. Beware of “holiday heart syndrome”. Overdrinking may cause your heart rhythm to go haywire. Harvard Heart Letter 2012 Nov;23(3):6.
Tonelo D, Providência R, Gonçalves L. Holiday heart syndrome revisited after 34 years. Arquivos Brasleilos Cardiologia. 2013 Aug;101(2):183-9.
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