Alcohol consumption linked to increased risk of heart disease

A comprehensive study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session has revealed a concerning association between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing coronary heart disease, particularly among young to middle-aged women. The study, conducted by researchers at The Permanente Medical Group and Kaiser Permanente Northern California, analyzed data from over 430,000 adults, making it one of the largest and most diverse studies to date on the topic.

The findings indicated that young to middle-aged women who reported drinking eight or more alcoholic beverages per week, averaging more than one per day, were significantly more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to those who consumed less alcohol. The risk was found to be particularly pronounced among individuals, both men and women, who engaged in heavy episodic drinking, commonly known as ‘binge’ drinking. Notably, the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease was observed to be especially strong among women.

Dr. Jamal Rana, the lead author of the study and a cardiologist with The Permanente Medical Group, expressed surprise at the results, stating, “For women, we find consistently higher risk even without binge drinking. I wasn’t expecting these results among women in this lower age group because we usually see increased risk for heart disease among older women. It was definitely surprising.”

The study focused on 18- to 65-year-old adults and highlighted the concerning rise of heart attacks and other forms of heart disease in younger populations in the U.S. The increase in alcohol use and binge drinking among women in recent decades has raised further concerns about worsening health outcomes in this demographic.

Data on participants’ alcohol intake was collected during primary care visits using the health organization’s standard “Alcohol as a Vital Sign” screening initiative, which includes visual reference posters to help patients estimate alcohol quantities according to standard measurements. The study analyzed the relationship between alcohol intake reported in routine assessments from 2014-2015 and coronary heart disease diagnoses during the subsequent four-year period.

The results revealed that the incidence of coronary heart disease increased with higher levels of alcohol consumption. Among women, those reporting high alcohol intake had a 45% higher risk of heart disease compared to those with low intake and a 29% higher risk compared to those with moderate intake. The difference was most significant among individuals in the binge drinking category, with women in this group being 68% more likely to develop heart disease compared to those reporting moderate intake. Similarly, men with high overall intake were 33% more likely to develop heart disease compared to those with moderate intake.

Dr. Rana emphasized the need for increased awareness regarding the health risks of alcohol consumption, 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 drink, you are at risk for coronary heart disease.”