Latest scientific news 13 December 2017

Heavy drinking might increase atherosclerosis risk

In this community-based study of middle-aged white men, heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages was significantly associated with a higher aortic calcification. Light to moderate drinking was not related to aortic calcification. Thus, heavy alcohol consumption may be an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis.

Although a J-shaped association has been very well established between light to moderate alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease, it is not clear whether consuming alcoholic beverages has an impact on atherosclerosis. To investigate the relationship between alcohol and atherosclerosis may help to clarify the mechanism involved in those beneficial health effects. A group of US scientists conducted a population-based study (ERA-JUMP Study) to determine the relationship between alcohol consumption and aortic calcification (*). They included 1006 healthy men (of different ethnic backgrounds) aged 40-49 years, without clinical cardiovascular diseases. Aortic calcification was assessed by electron-beam computed tomography. Alcohol consumption was categorized into four groups: 0 drinks (26% non-drinkers), ≤1 (35% light drinkers), >1 to ≤3 (24% moderate drinkers) and >3 drinks per day (16% heavy drinkers) (1 drink = 12.5 g of ethanol).

The results showed that heavy drinkers had a 67% higher than expected aortic calcification score compared to nondrinkers, after adjusting for socio-demographic and confounding variables. The researchers concluded that heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages may be an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis. Light to moderate drinking may decrease cardiovascular risk through mechanisms other than those associated with the reduced deposition of calcium in the atherosclerotic lesions.

Mahajan H, Choo J, Masaki K, et al.  Association of alcohol consumption and aortic calcification in healthy men aged 40-49 years for the ERA JUMP Study. Atherosclerosis 2017;268:84-91

For more information about this article, read the scientific abstract here.

(*) aortic calcification: calcium deposits in the atherosclerotic lesions of the aorta and consequently, stiffness of the blood vessel develops

1 drink = 12.5 g of alcohol

Light drinkers:             < 1 drink/day

Moderate drinkers:    1-3 drinks/day

Heavy drinkers:           > 3 drinks/day