Moderate drinking of alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a lowering of mortality from all causes, when compared with zero alcohol consumption, found a large US and Australia landmark study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study of more than 18,000 people over 70 is the first to look at the heart health implications of alcohol intake.
“The findings need to be interpreted with caution, as study participants were all initially healthy without prior CVD or other severe diseases, and may have been more physically and socially active than the wider ageing population,” said the lead author, Dr Johannes Neumann, who led the team of researchers from Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, in Australia. He also cautioned that there was prior evidence that excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of other diseases, including liver disease, certain cancers, or pancreatitis.
“Modest alcohol intake in this group of healthy older adults was not harmful for CVD or overall mortality,” Neumann said. “Further research is warranted to evaluate causal biological effects of alcohol on health and possible behavioural advantages of social drinking and engagement,” he said.
The researchers noted that although excessive drinking is a major risk factor for mortality and a leading contributor to global burden of disease, prior studies suggest that moderate alcohol intake may be associated with a decreased risk of events related to cardiovascular disease.
Neumann and his research team looked at data from almost 18,000 ASPREE participants who were over 70. The ASPREE project is a bi-national study (Australia and US) that looks at aspirin and the well-being, quality of life and overall health in older adults. Participants in the alcohol consumption study did not have any prior cardiovascular disease events, and no diagnosis of dementia or physical disability that limited their independence.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) events included in the study were defined as non-fatal myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease death, stroke that is fatal and nonfatal, non-coronary cardiac or vascular death, and hospitalisation for heart failure.
The authors said participants were asked in a self-reported questionnaire about how many alcoholic beverages they consumed each day and how many days a week they drank. The study did not include individuals who drank alcohol and stopped for health reasons. Alcohol intake was measured in grams per week.
A standard drink was considered 14g for US participants and 10g for Australian participants.
The researchers followed the participants for an average of 4,7 years and found a reduced risk of CVD events for people who consumed alcohol of 51–100g/wk, (Australian equivalent: 5 drinks, US: 3,5 drinks), 101– 150g/wk, (Australian: 5-10 drinks, US: 3,5-7 drinks) and >150g/week (Australians: 15 drinks, US 7-10 drinks), compared with those who never consumed alcohol, regardless of gender.
Of the almost 18,000 eligible participants with median age 74 years:
• 57% were female
• 43.3% were current or former smokers and
• mean BMI was 28.1 kg/m2
The participants reported that
• 18.6% ingested no alcohol every week
• 37.3% reported 1-50 g/week
• 19.7%reported 51-100 g/week
• 15.6% reported 101-150 g/week
• 8.9% reported >150 g/week
The study authors said the findings also suggested that alcohol consumption of 51–100g/week (five drinks for Australian and 3.5 drinks for Americans), was associated with a decreased chance of all-cause mortality.
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