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.

BACKGROUND: Studies evaluating alcohol consumption and cardiovascular diseases have shown inconsistent results. METHODS: We performed a systematic review of peer-reviewed publications from an extensive query of Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Ovid Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Scopus, and Web of Science from database inception to March 2022 for all studies that reported the association between alcohol consumption in terms of quantity (daily or weekly amounts) and type of beverage (wine, beer or spirit) and cardiovascular disease events. RESULTS: The study population included a total of 1,579,435 individuals based on 56 cohorts from several countries. We found that moderate wine consumption defined as 1-4 drinks per week was associated with a reduction in risk for cardiovascular mortality when compared with beer…
Over the past several decades, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has nearly doubled, and alcohol has played a major role in the incidence of much of it. Alcohol has also been attributed in deaths due to infectious diseases, intentional and unintentional injuries, digestive diseases, and several other non-communicable diseases, including cancer. The economic costs of alcohol-associated health outcomes are significant at the individual as well as the country level. Risks due to alcohol consumption increase for most cardiovascular diseases, including hypertensive heart disease, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and flutter, and stroke. The widespread message for over 30 years has been to promote the myth that alcohol prolongs life, chiefly by reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Lack of…
We examined whether the often-reported protective association of alcohol with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk could arise from confounding. Our sample comprised 908 men (56-67 years), free of prevalent CVD. Participants were categorized into 6 groups: never drinkers, former drinkers, and very light (1-4 drinks in past 14 days), light (5-14 drinks), moderate (15-28 drinks), and at-risk (>28 drinks) drinkers. Generalized linear mixed effect models examined the associations of alcohol use with three established CVD risk scores: The Framingham Risk Score (FRS); the atherosclerotic CVD (ASCVD) risk score; and the Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) Severity score, adjusting for group differences in demographics, body size, and health-related behaviors. In separate models we additionally adjusted for several groups of potentially explanatory factors including socioeconomic…
AIMS: The association between low-to-moderate alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation (AF) has yet to be fully elucidated. The main purpose of this meta-analysis was to estimate the risk of incident AF related to low-to-moderate alcohol consumption. METHODS AND RESULTS: A meta-analysis was performed on 13 publications discussing the estimated risk for AF with habitual low-to-moderate alcohol intake in 10 266 315 participants. Graphical augmentations to the funnel plots were used to illustrate the potential impact of additional evidence on the current meta-analysis. Thirteen eligible studies were included in this meta-analysis. We found that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with an increased risk of incident AF in males [hazard ratio (HR) 1.09, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.07-1.11, P < 0.00001], Europeans…
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Alcohol consumption has complex effects on myocardial infarction (MI) and ischemic stroke. We investigated the difference in associations according to drinking patterns (drinking frequency vs. amount per occasion) and sex. METHODS: This population-based retrospective study included 11,595,191 subjects participating in national health examinations between 2009 and 2010. Using Cox regression analyses, we calculated MI and ischemic stroke risk according to weekly alcohol consumption, drinking frequency, and amount per occasion. RESULTS: For MI, all weekly alcohol consumption amounts showed lower risk compared to non-drinkers: mild (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 0.78; 95% confidence intervals [CI], 0.77-0.79), moderate (aHR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.70-0.73), and heavy (aHR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.72-0.76). Drinking frequency and amount per occasion did not differ in…
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