Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Reduce Risk of Certain Cardiovascular Conditions

Moderate alcohol intake linked to lower risk of angina, heart failure, and ischemic stroke.

While alcohol consumption has been linked to certain diseases, new findings suggest that moderate intake could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease compared with heavy or no drinking.

Since moderate alcohol consumption is not linked to a lower risk of all cardiovascular conditions, the authors suggest a new approach is needed to explore the relationship, according to a study published by BMJ.

Moderate drinking is defined as no more than 14 units of alcohol per week in the UK, which is the equivalent of a half-pint of 3.6% alcohol by volume beer, lager, or cider.

Included in the study were 1.93 million adults included in the CALIBER database. The investigators examined the association between alcohol intake and 12 cardiovascular diseases.

At baseline, patients did not have cardiovascular disease, and were separated into groups of non-drinkers, former drinkers, and occasional drinkers to ensure distinct results.

After other factors were accounted for, moderate drinking was found to lower the risk of developing several, but not all, cardiovascular conditions, according to the study. Moderate drinking, compared with abstaining from alcohol, was linked to a lower risk of presenting to a physician with angina, heart failure, and ischemic stroke.

Despite these findings, the authors do not suggest that individuals increase alcohol consumption to lower the risk of heart disease. Other more effective ways, such as increasing physical activity and smoking cessation, are recommended.

Heavy drinking was observed to be associated with an increased risk of heart failure, cardiac attack, and ischemic stroke, compared with moderate drinking, according to the study. However, it was linked to a lower risk of heart attack and angina.

The study authors said that their findings do not mean that individuals who consume more alcohol than recommended will not experience a heart attack in the future, but they were less likely to present a cardiovascular event as their first diagnosis compared with moderate drinkers, according to the study.

The authors noted that this is an observational study, which may lead to bias, so no firm conclusions can be made. Additional studies are required to further explore the relationship between alcohol and heart disease.

This is the first time the association between heart disease and alcohol consumption has been studied on a large scale. These findings may be used for counseling, public health initiatives, and disease prediction tools, according to the study.

In an accompanying editorial, investigators from Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health said that while the new study does not offer a groundbreaking new view of alcohol intake and heart disease, it shows the usefulness of big data.

"This work, however, sets the stage for ever larger and more sophisticated studies that will attempt to harness the flood of big data into a stream of useful, reliable, and unbiased findings that can inform public health, clinical care, and the direction of future research," the authors concluded.