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Drinking on a plane can hurt your heart, new research

Flying First Class on Emirates? Ask for a mocktail- it’s better for your heart.

Sometimes about the only place you feel like drinking is when you are stuck for 12 hours on a long-haul flight. But researchers from Germany suggest that all people, young and old, should avoid alcohol on flights. They say that combined with cabin pressure, the alcohol puts too much pressure on your heart.

After a series of lab experiments the German scientists discovered that when people fall asleep after consuming alcohol at low air pressures, your blood oxygen can drop to worrisome levels. Heart rate levels can increase without warning in both young and old people, they write in the journal Thorax.

Read related: why Muslims don’t drink alcohol

Co-author Dr. Eva-Maria Elmenhorst, deputy of the department of sleep and human factors research at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at the German Aerospace Center in Cologne, Germany says that passengers should think twice about drinking alcohol in flight.

Even without the burden of alcohol, dry cabin air causes dehydration and being immobile can trigger trigger blood clots in the legs.

The German said they expected that alcohol consumption at low air pressures in-flight would have an effect on people, but they “we were surprised to see that the effect was so strong,” Elmenhorst said, suggesting to flyers: “Please don’t drink alcohol while being on an airplane. The decreased oxygen saturation together with the increase in heart rate could exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions.

Read related: Ask for in-flight mocktails instead

“The oxygen saturation dropped to quite low levels during sleep,” she said. “This is why I would recommend to avoid drinking alcohol even when someone is healthy.”

The study looked at 48 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 40 who were randomly assigned to one of two groups: Half went to sleep in a sleep lab that had air pressure at sea level. The other half would sleep in an altitude chamber that mimicked the air pressure found on planes traveling at a cruising altitude.

Twelve people in each group slept for four hours after having consumed two cans of beer or two glasses of wine. The other group slept without. Then the procedure was reversed.

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Those who drank before falling asleep in the altitude chamber had their blood oxygen saturation drop to 85% on average, while their heart rates rose to compensate to an average of nearly 88 beats per minute.



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