OCT 03, 2016 5:43 PM PDT

Alcohol Consumption Not So Compatible With Heart Health

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
A new study shows that moderate alcohol consumption increases an individual’s risk for atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder. However, past studies from the very same scientists have shown that alcohol consumption reduces the risk of heart attack. Which one is it? Or can the two trends exist simultaneously?
Image credit: www.everydayhealth.com
From the University of California San Francisco, professor, practicing cardiologist, and senior author of recent Journal of the American Heart Association paper Gregory Marcus and his team looked at medical records from more than five thousand adults from the Framingham Heart Study. Records included echocardiograms, medical history, and self-reported alcohol intake; most of the adults reported having about one drink per day. 

The overall rate of atrial fibrillation was 8.4 cases per 1,000 individuals per year; this according to data collected from the study participants over many years. With each additional drink consumed per day, an additional five percent increase in annual risk accompanied. Plus, an additional daily drink was also linked to a small but significant enlargement of the left atrium, indicating a potential location of damage from alcohol consumption that could be responsible for alcohol-induced atrial fibrillation, at least in part. 

The irregular pumping of blood that characterizes atrial fibrillation can lead to blood clots, making the condition a serious risk factor for stroke. Researchers are still unsure exactly how alcohol consumption impacts atrial fibrillation risk. Other known risk factors for atrial fibrillation include diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and more.

Despite Marcus’ recent findings, the confusing and somewhat contradictory relationship between alcohol and heart health still remains, and Marcus and his team are not strangers to the potential positive effects alcohol can have on heart health. Earlier in 2016, results from a study they conducted showed that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart attack, even while simultaneously increasing the risk of atrial fibrillation: “patients in counties permitting alcohol sales were more likely to have atrial fibrillation but less likely to have heart attacks and congestive heart failure.”

"I'm constantly trying to remind people that there are various forms of heart disease and not all are related to heart attack," said Marcus. "Atrial fibrillation is growing in importance as our success in preventing heart attack grows."

Sources: University of California San Francisco, American Rhythm Society 
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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