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Drinking alcohol linked to significant heart issues for women, study finds

The study aims to explore the relationship between alcohol intake and heart disease in a diverse population, particularly in women. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)


A recent study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session revealed a concerning association between alcohol consumption and the development of coronary heart disease, particularly among women.


The research, conducted by Dr. Jamal Rana and his team, scrutinized data from over 430,000 individuals within the Kaiser Permanente Northern California integrated health organization.


 
 

The study, one of the largest and most varied of its kind, focused on adults aged 18 to 65, aiming to explore the relationship between alcohol intake and heart disease in a diverse population.


(LEFT) Dr. Jamal Rana, MD, PhD and (RIGHT) Stacy Sterling, DrPH, MSW from Kaiser Permanente. (CREDIT: Kaiser Permanente)


Coronary heart disease, a condition where the arteries supplying blood to the heart become narrowed, restricting blood flow, has been increasingly prevalent among younger demographics in the United States.


 
 

Concurrently, alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, has surged among women compared to previous decades. Dr. Rana highlighted the unexpected findings concerning women, stating, “For women, we find consistently higher risk even without binge drinking... It was definitely surprising.”


The researchers employed the health organization’s standard “Alcohol as a Vital Sign” screening initiative to collect information on participants’ alcohol intake during primary care visits.


 

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They categorized participants’ alcohol consumption levels as low, moderate, or high based on self-reported data. Binge drinking, defined as consuming more than four drinks for men or three drinks for women in a single day within the past three months, was also considered.


The study excluded non-drinkers and adjusted data for various cardiovascular risk factors such as age, physical activity, and smoking.


 
 

During the four-year follow-up period, 3,108 participants were diagnosed with coronary heart disease, with the incidence of the disease escalating with higher levels of alcohol consumption. Notably, women who reported high alcohol intake had a 45% higher risk of heart disease compared to those with moderate intake.


Among women engaging in binge drinking, the risk soared by 68% compared to those with moderate intake. Similarly, men with high alcohol intake faced a 22% higher risk of heart disease than those with moderate intake.


Dr. Rana emphasized the importance of these findings, particularly for women, stating, “Women feel they’re protected against heart disease until they’re older, but this study shows that even when you’re young or middle-aged, if you are a heavy alcohol user or binge drinker, you are at risk for coronary heart disease.”


 
 

Notably, there was no significant difference in risk between individuals reporting moderate versus low alcohol intake, irrespective of binge drinking status.


Alcohol consumption is known to elevate blood pressure and induce metabolic changes linked to inflammation and obesity. Moreover, women metabolize alcohol differently than men.


Thus, the study underscores the necessity of considering alcohol use in heart disease risk assessment and prevention efforts. Dr. Rana stressed, “A lot more awareness is needed, and alcohol should be part of routine health assessments moving forward.”


 
 

However, the study acknowledges limitations, such as potential under-reporting of alcohol intake by participants during health care provider assessments. Consequently, the study may provide conservative estimates of alcohol-related heart disease risks.


The researchers also suggest that the manner in which alcohol screening is conducted in health clinics could influence discussions on alcohol consumption risks, highlighting the need for further research to determine optimal strategies.


The study underscores the importance of incorporating alcohol use into routine health assessments and calls for heightened awareness of the health risks posed by excessive alcohol consumption, particularly in younger age groups.


 
 

This study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.






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