Longer Abstention from Alcohol Lowers Atrial Fibrillation Risk
In the first study looking at cessation of alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation (AF) risk, UC San Francisco researchers have shown that the longer people abstain from drinking alcohol, the lower their risk of AF. After adjusting for potential variables, the researchers found that every decade of abstinence from alcohol was associated with an approximately 20 percent lower rate of AF, regardless of the type of alcohol consumed, such as beer, wine or liquor.
Their study appears online Oct. 18, 2017, in PLOS ONE.
“For a disease that affects millions and is one of the most important causes of stroke, identifying modifiable risk factors is especially important,” said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, a UCSF Health cardiologist and director of clinical research in the UCSF Division of Cardiology. “Future research may help identify patients particularly prone to alcohol-related AF, and, when done, targeted counseling to those patients may be especially effective.”
In AF, electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart are chaotic, and the atrial walls quiver, rather than contracting normally in moving blood to the lower chambers. As a result, blood clots may form, leading to stroke or heart attacks. One in four adults over age 40 is at risk for AF, with a projection of nearly 6 million people in the nation having the condition by 2050.
Despite the popular notion that moderate alcohol use reduces the risk of heart disease, several recent studies have found an association between heavy alcohol consumption – usually defined as more than three drinks per day – and AF, while a 2011 meta-analysis of 14 studies also found a relationship between any level of alcohol consumption and AF.
In the PLOS ONE study, Marcus and his colleagues analyzed data generated over 25 years through the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Designed to identify risk factors for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, ARIC recruited 15,792 adults ages 45-64 between 1987-89 in Forsyth County, N.C., Jackson, Miss., Minneapolis suburbs and Washington County, Md. After a comprehensive baseline assessment, participants had four follow-up visits in 1990-92, 1993-95, 1996-98 and 2011-13 and were contacted annually by phone to obtain information about hospital admissions and vital status.
The PLOS ONE study assessed data on 15,222 ARIC participants who were asked whether they currently consumed alcoholic beverages, and, if not, whether they had in the past. For those citing past drinking, follow-up questions included number of years since the individual stopped drinking, number of years he/she drank, types of alcoholic beverages consumed and usual number of drinks per week before stopping.