Alcohol and Your Health at Altitude

Choose healthy options for a smooth flight Credit: Kelly/Pexels

A new study by German researchers suggests indulging in a pre-flight drink could pose a surprising risk to your heart health, particularly if you plan to catch some sleep during the flight.

The study, published in the medical journal Thorax, found that the combination of alcohol consumption and the low cabin pressure experienced at cruising altitude can negatively impact the cardiovascular system, even in young and healthy adults. Participants who consumed alcohol before simulated sleep in a low-pressure environment mimicking an airplane cabin exhibited decreased blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and increased heart rate.

Cabin Pressure May Lead to Faster Intoxication

The risks associated with alcohol on airplanes go beyond just heart health. Experts have long suspected that cabin pressure alters how alcohol affects the body. The drier cabin environment can lead to dehydration, worsening the effects of alcohol. Additionally, the lower cabin pressure may contribute to faster intoxication.

“While a single drink for a healthy person is unlikely to cause major harm,” explains Dr Nadia Elmenhorst, lead researcher on the study, “The combination of alcohol and reduced oxygen levels can put a strain on the heart, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.”

The study underscores the potential dangers for passengers with heart or lung problems. The observed effects could exacerbate existing symptoms and potentially lead to health complications during the flight. Researchers particularly recommend caution for older adults and those with underlying health conditions.

Healthy Alternatives to Alcohol

So, what are some healthier alternatives to a pre-flight drink? Opting for water or hydrating beverages like fruit juice can help combat dehydration and ensure your body functions optimally during the flight. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation can also help manage stress and anxiety, often the reasons people reach for a drink before a flight.

Factors that can exacerbate intoxication at altitude include dehydration, due to less water consumption and dry cabin air, and limited movement, which slows down alcohol metabolism.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) adds another layer to the concern. They point out that the low air pressure associated with flying can thin the blood, theoretically amplifying the effects of alcohol.

Travellers might also want to avoid carbonated drinks like champagne or fizzy mixers. While limited, research suggests these drinks can raise blood alcohol content quicker than non-carbonated alternatives, leading to a faster feeling of drunkenness.

While leading experts have debated the risks of moderate alcohol consumption for decades, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently reignited the conversation by stating that no amount of alcohol is entirely safe.

So, the next time you’re tempted by that pre-flight drink, consider the potential impact on your heart health, especially at altitude. Choosing water, relaxation techniques, and avoiding certain types of beverages might be a better strategy for a smooth and healthy flight.

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    • Ian

      06 June 2024 • 16:02

      What load of PC rubbish.

      People have been enjoying drinks on aircraft since aviation began. Just another attempt to blame alcohol instead of the real reasons people are falling down. Get a grip you scaremongers.

      • Jamoeba

        08 June 2024 • 13:51

        So, science is total BS for you eh!


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