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Ask the experts: Alcohol and ageing

Q: "My husband finds he cannot drink as much in the evening as he used to because his heart beats a lot faster, and he feels uncomfortable. Is this an age thing? We’re only in our 50s."

A: Our body’s ability to metabolise alcohol does diminish with age.

As we age our body composition tends to change to less muscle and more fat. Muscle absorbs alcohol more quickly so people who have less muscle end up with more alcohol in the blood.

Alcohol dilates the blood vessels causing more blood to flow out to the skin. The heart has to beat harder to pump the blood out to these peripheral areas. The result is a flushed face and a faster beating heart.

A study in 2004 followed almost 50,000 middle-aged people over five years and found that men who drank more than two standard drinks each day had a 24-46 per cent increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation (where the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly) compared with those who drank the least alcohol.

First published: Dec 2010



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