Cardiovascular System

Is the “J-Curve” Real?

  

1. J-curve - Lower risk for light to moderate drinkers compared to abstainers

For many decades, epidemiological studies have consistently shown that light-to-moderate  consumers of alcoholic beverages have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and a lower risk of death from all causes (including total cancer) compared with non-drinkers or those who drink heavily. It is not limited to alcohol-related causes of death, but instead captures all deaths combined (Brien et al 2011, Ronksley et al 2011, di Castelnuovo et al 2006, Roerecke et al 2012, Ferrari et al 2014, Jayasekara et al 2014, Xi et al 2017, Wood et al 2018, Colpani et al 2018).

  • Such a J-shaped relationship (J-curve) has been shown in many different populations and dozens of observational studies. In different degrees, it is also seen in men and women and with other types of alcoholic beverages.
  • Observational studies cannot prove causality but the observed association is considered biologically plausible (see below). However, there is a scientific debate at which level of consumption the nadir of this curve lies.

 

  • Such a J-shaped relationship (J-curve) has been shown in many different populations and dozens of observational studies. In different degrees, it is also seen in men and women and with other types of alcoholic beverages.
  • Observational studies cannot prove causality but the observed association is considered biologically plausible (see below). However, there is a scientific debate at which level of consumption the nadir of this curve lies.

 

2. Comparison to Smoking

WHO and other institutions have repeatedly declared the risks of alcohol consumption equivalent to smoking. However, no benefit of “moderate smoking” has ever been found.

WHO and other institutions have repeatedly declared the risks of alcohol consumption equivalent to smoking. However, no benefit of “moderate smoking” has ever been found.

 

De Gaetano et al, 2017, Alcohol and health – praise of the J-curve, J Am Coll Cardiology, vol 70, no 8

 

3. J-shape also for other diseases

In addition to CVD and total mortality, a J-shaped curve exists for the risk of other diseases, for example for type-2 diabetes and dementia. 

 

4. Correlation or cause?

Observational studies can only provide statistical associations and present absolute or relative risks of developing certain diseases and cannot be interpreted as a proof of a causal relationship. However, the associations described are biologically plausible: controlled experiments have proven the beneficial physiological effects of light to moderate drinking of wine/alcoholic beverages.

 

Biologically plausible: How does it work?

Effect of alcohol:

  • Improvement of cholesterol levels: „good“ HDL increases, „bad“ LDL decreases
  • Lowering of blood viscosity (blood becomes „thinner“)

Effect of phenolic, non-alcoholic compounds of wine:

  • Improvement of endothelial function
  • Antioxidant effect/scavenger of free radicals

 

5. Wine versus other alcoholic beverages

Light to moderate wine consumption may be more beneficial than consuming other alcoholic beverages. An increasing number of both animal experiments and human trials demonstrate that non-alcoholic substances (polyphenols) in wine provide additional protective effects against risk factors and diseases.

 

6. Influencing factors

Most epidemiological studies have only used the average amount of alcohol consumed (over a week or month) as the measure of exposure, however, other factors play an important role in the health outcome. i.e. Regular moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages had considerable health advantages compared to binge drinkers, even though they consumed on average the same amount.

  • Drinking pattern (moderate, regular vs. binge drinking)
  • Drinking with the meals
  • Alternate wine with water
  • The famous advice of Serge Renaud is: “You drink water, but you sip wine”.

 

7. Underreporting

An important problem of observational studies is “under-reporting” of alcohol intake. This subsequently affects the J-curve. When “under-reporters” are removed from the study analysis, the curve shifts to the right, which means that the lowest risk of moderate drinkers is actually related to a higher amount of alcohol intake and the increased risk starts at a higher dosage.

 

8. Moderate wine consumption within a healthy lifestyle

Light to moderate consumption of wine/alcoholic beverages should be considered only one component of lifestyle factors related to health. The most important aspects are:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a normal body weight (avoid becoming obese)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet (e.g., a Mediterranean-type diet)
  • Consume alcoholic beverages moderately and regularly with food, unless contraindicated

These lifestyle factors contribute not only to a longer life expectancy but also a longer life free of chronic diseases.

 

9. Sick-quitters

Earlier studies included ex-drinkers in the non-drinking reference/control group that may have artificially increased the risk of disease for “current abstainers”, thus, confounding the J-shaped curve and negating a protective relationship with moderate drinking. However, more recent studies have corrected this flaw and when including only lifetime abstainers in the non-drinking category, a similar J-shaped curve was found and disproved the so called “sick-quitters” hypothesis.

Based on a prospective cohort study of adults from southwest China with heterogeneity in their demographical characteristics and lifestyles, we aimed to explore the association between drinking patterns and incident hypertension under the interaction of these confounding factors. The Cox proportional hazard model was used to estimate the hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Subgroup analysis was performed according to sex, ethnicity, area, occupation, smoking, and exercise to compare the differences in the association between drinking patterns and the incidence of hypertension. Blood pressure was higher in participants with a high drinking frequency than those with a low drinking frequency (p < 0.001). We found that total drinking frequency, liquor drinking frequency, rice wine drinking frequency, and…
IMPORTANCE: Observational studies have consistently proposed cardiovascular benefits associated with light alcohol consumption, while recent genetic analyses (ie, mendelian randomization studies) have suggested a possible causal link between alcohol intake and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, traditional approaches to genetic epidemiology assume a linear association and thus have not fully evaluated dose-response estimates of risk across different levels of alcohol intake. OBJECTIVES: To assess the association of habitual alcohol intake with cardiovascular disease risk and to evaluate the direction and relative magnitude of cardiovascular risk associated with different amounts of alcohol consumption. DESIGN, SETTING, and PARTICIPANTS: This cohort study used the UK Biobank (2006-2010, follow-up until 2016) to examine confounding in epidemiologic associations between alcohol intake and cardiovascular diseases.…
This Data in Brief article contains further sensitivity analysis data related to the article "Alcohol consumption and mortality: the Ludwigshafen Risk and Cardiovascular Health (LURIC) study" [1]. Alcohol consumption data of participants in LURIC was collected using a questionnaire. This data was used to calculate the amount of alcohol consumption in g ethanol per day by using standard volumes and standard vol-% in different beverages in Germany. The data shown here provide results from the LURIC study stratified by gender. Furthermore, the LURIC study results were reproduced using other classifications, which were stratified in different literature data. In addition, our analysis provides data of alcohol consumption for smokers and non-smokers in the LURIC study cohort separately.
The relationship between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease risk is complex. Low-to-moderate daily alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks/day) is associated with reduced risk, whereas greater amounts of alcohol consumption and a "binge" pattern of drinking are associated with increased cardiovascular risk and mortality. Arterial stiffness may help explain the complex relationship. This integrated review summarizes data from studies examining the associations between alcohol consumption and pulse wave velocity, a gold standard measure of arterial stiffness. We also briefly review the concept and methodology of pulse wave velocity measurement as well as the mechanisms of alcohol-induced arterial stiffening. Findings among the different studies reviewed were inconsistent with methodological challenges related to alcohol use assessment. While making specific conclusions regarding this relationship is…
OBJECTIVES: This study sought to characterize associations of total and beverage-specific alcohol consumption with incident atrial fibrillation (AF). BACKGROUND: Although binge drinking and moderate to high consumption of alcohol are both established risk factors for AF, comparatively less is known about the effect of low alcohol consumption and whether associations differ by specific alcoholic beverages. METHODS: Using data from the UK Biobank, total and beverage-specific alcohol consumption was calculated as UK standard drinks (8 g alcohol) per week. Past drinkers and those with a history of AF were excluded. Incident AF events were assessed through hospitalization and death records, and dose-response associations were characterized using Cox regression models with correction for regression dilution bias. RESULTS: We studied 403,281 middle-aged individuals…
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