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Alcohol consumption and cardiovascular risk

last modified Apr 13, 2018 10:51 AM

Dr Angela Wood, Prof John Danesh, and collaborators at the University of Cambridge and elsewhere have published a major international study about the link between alcohol consumption and death in the Lancet .

The international team of researchers analysed data from nearly 600,000 drinkers included in 83 studies across 19 high-income countries, and found an increase in all causes of death above 100g/week alcohol consumption, supporting reductions of alcohol consumption limits in most existing guidelines around the world.

In comparison to those who reported drinking less than 100 g/week, those who reported drinking 100-200 g/week, 200-350 g/week, or more than 350 g/week had an estimated lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1–2 years, or 4–5 years, respectively.

Dr Angela Wood, lead author, says: “The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions.”

The researchers also looked at the association between alcohol consumption and different types of cardiovascular disease. Higher alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm. For these conditions, there were no clear risk thresholds below which lower alcohol consumption stopped being associated with lower disease risk. By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was associated with a somewhat lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases,” explains Dr Wood.

The authors note that the different relationships between alcohol intake and various types of cardiovascular disease could be explained, at least in part, by the effect of alcohol consumption on elevated blood pressure and on factors related to elevated high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C).

The study focused on current drinkers to reduce the risk of bias caused by those who abstain from alcohol due to poor health. However, the authors note some limitations. Participants were recruited between 1964 and 2010 and each participant had a minimum of 12 months follow up. The study did not look at the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course or account for people who may have reduced their consumption due to health complications. Finally, the study used self-reported alcohol consumption.

Funding information: This study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7, and European Research Council.

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