In a new study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, researchers investigated the potential biases that exist in available epidemiological evidence resulting in negative associations or underestimation of cardiovascular (CV) risk associated with alcohol consumption.
The researchers examined hospitalizations related to cardiovascular events among more than 350,000 UK residents aged between 40 and 69 from data obtained from the UK Biobank study. The sample included 333,259 participants who drank alcohol. They had been asked about their overall weekly alcohol intake and their intake of specific types of alcohol including, beer, wine, and spirits.
The participants were followed up for a median of approximately seven years, capturing all incidents where patients were hospitalized due to cardiovascular events.
Anyone who had suffered a previous cardiovascular event was excluded from the analysis, as were former drinkers or those who had not completed information on alcohol intake.
The researchers found that for those participants that drank less than 14 units of alcohol per week, the limit recommended by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers, each additional 1.5 points of beer at 4% strength is associated with a 23% increased risk of suffering cardiovascular events.
What the authors argue is that there is an existing bias in epidemiological evidence, with a widespread acceptance of a J-shaped curve that wrongly suggests that low to moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial to cardiovascular disease.
Some of the biases include using non-drinkers as reference group when many do not drink for existing health conditions, pooling of all drink types when determining the alcohol intake of a study population, and embedding the lower risk observed of coronary artery disease among wine drinkers, potentially distorting the overall cardiovascular risk from the drink.
The lead author of the study Dr. Rudolph Schutte said:
“The so-called J-shaped curve of the cardiovascular disease-alcohol consumption relationship suggesting health benefits from low to moderate alcohol consumption is the biggest myth since we were told smoking was good for us.”
“Among drinkers of beer, cider and spirits in particular, even those consuming under 14 units a week had an increased risk of ending up in hospital through a cardiovascular event involving the heart or the blood vessels. While we hear much about wine drinkers having lower risk of coronary artery disease, our data shows their risk of other cardiovascular events is not reduced”.
“Biases embedded in epidemiological evidence mask or underestimate the hazards associated with alcohol consumption. When these biases are accounted for, the adverse effects of even low-level alcohol consumption are revealed”.
Anglia Ruskin University. “Even light drinking can be harmful to health: Research reveals cardiovascular risk of consuming small quantities of alcohol.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/01/220128100730.htm>.
Photo by: Francisco Fernandez, M.D.