Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease: How Much is Too Much?
Purpose of Review
Previous research suggests that low-moderate alcohol consumption may have cardioprotective effects, while heavy or binge-pattern drinking is harmful. New evidence and research methodology may inform safe thresholds of alcohol use. This review examines recent evidence regarding alcohol’s effect on cardiovascular disease, with a special consideration of pattern, drink type, and total quantity.
New epidemiologic research confirms the potential harmful cardiovascular effects of heavy episodic alcohol use and does not support the previous observation that low-moderate alcohol use protects against stroke. Alcohol consumption also appears to have a continuous positive relationship with the risk of atrial fibrillation. In addition, Mendelian randomization analyses suggest that alcohol may have a direct causal role in adverse cardiovascular effects. Recent studies have confirmed that heavy alcohol use (>14 drinks per week in women and >21 drinks per week in men) and heavy episodic drinking are associated with an increased risk of mortality.
New research raises concerns that even low-moderate alcohol use may not offer cardio- or cerebrovascular protection. Drinking ≥3 drinks per day on a regular basis or ≥5 drinks in any one episode should be discouraged.