ALCOHOL has long been associated with an increased risk of developing heart failure if a taken in on a regular basis. However, it has also been shown that the risk is slightly higher for those who do not drink alcohol at all when compared to people who drink moderate amounts. Whether the case was the same for atrial fibrillation (AF) has been unclear until recently, when a study from Germany showed that there is an increased risk for AF in those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol compared with those who do not drink at all.
The researchers from the University Heart and Vascular Center Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany, used information on nearly 108,000 people (median age: 48 years; range: 24–97 years) obtained from five community-based studies in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Italy, who underwent medical examinations at the time they joined the studies between 1982 and 2010. The information of the participants was self-reported, and included factors such as medical history, lifestyle (including alcohol and tobacco use), employment, and education. At time of enrolment, a total of 100,092 participants did not have AF. A total of 5,854 people developed AF over the median follow-up period of 14 years. One alcoholic drink was categorised as that containing 12 g of ethanol; for example, a small glass of wine (120 mL), a small beer (330 mL), or 40 mL spirits.
The results showed that just one alcoholic drink per day was linked to a 16% increased risk of AF over the median 14 years of follow-up, compared with drinking no alcohol at all. Furthermore, a 28% increased risk was seen in those who drank two alcoholic drinks per day, and 47% in those who consumed more than four. “In our study, we can now demonstrate that even very low regular alcohol consumption may increase the risk of AF,” summarised study leader Prof Renate Schnabel.
Although there were some limitations to the study, such as the fact that alcohol consumption could have been under-reported due to participants reporting their own types and quantity of alcohol, Prof Schnabel commented: “These findings are important as the regular consumption of alcohol, the ‘one glass of wine a day’ to protect the heart, as is often recommended for instance in the lay press, should probably no longer be suggested without balancing risks and possible benefits for all heart and blood vessel diseases, including AF.”