Page last updated: June 27, 2018

Light alcohol consumption is associated with less subclinical cardiovascular organ damage in Koreans

Epidemiologic studies have presented protective effects of alcohol against cardiovascular (CV) events, but whether drinking alcohol is beneficial to CV morbidities and whether these beneficial effects are from alcohol itself or from other substances contained in alcoholic beverages, such as antioxidants in wine and beer, remain unclear.

The Korean population has a distinct drinking culture with liquors different from those in Western populations. The most frequently consumed alcoholic beverage in Korea is soju, a type of distilled alcohol, which contains almost zero antioxidants, unlike the polyphenols that are abundant in wine or beer. In addition, most previous studies on the effects of alcohol on CV diseases were performed on Westerners in Western countries. Their findings may not be applicable to non-Westerners, the authors of a recent paper suggest.

Researchers performed a cross-sectional analyses to investigate the effects of habitual alcohol drinking on the subclinical CV morbidity in 1004 healthy Korean subjects with no apparent CV diseases. Medical data was obtained for participants and self-reported questionnaires were completed that included quantitative drinking habits, smoking history, and comorbidities, including diabetes mellitus (DM) and hypertension.

Assessment of coronary artery calcium (CAC) deposits was performed using computed tomography (CT); pulse wave velocity (PWV) served as a marker for arterial stiffening. Carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) was used not only as an early indicator of subclinical organ damage, but also a as predictor of future atherosclerosis. The subjects were divided into three groups based on their drinking patterns: Group 0 (abstainers), Group 1 (light drinkers), and Group 2 (problematic drinkers; > 14 standard drinking/week for men, >7 standard drinking/week for women). As drinking patterns can be influenced by age/sex, a regression analysis was performed in another four groups (men/women, age < 65/≥65 years).

Group 1 exhibited lower CAC and abPWV scores and thinner had cIMT than Groups 0 and 2. Problematic drinking (odds ratio [OR]: 2.269; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.454–3. 541) was associated with a high prevalence of CAC deposits among men aged < 65 years and light drinking with a lower prevalence of CAC deposits (OR: 0.057; 95% CI: 0.023–0.140) among men aged ≥65 years. Conversely, problematic drinking in older women [OR: 0.117; 95% CI: 0.014–0.943) and casual drinking in younger women (OR: 0.349; 95% CI: 0.153–0.792) were associated with a lower prevalence of CAC deposits. Light drinking was associated with a lower abPWV and thinner cIMT in the diabetes mellitus/hypertension-adjusted regression analysis.

The authors conclude that, compared with abstinence or problematic drinking, light drinking was associated with less severe CV organ damage in the subclinical stages in Koreans. They also suggest that the favourable effects of drinking presented in the current study are likely to be from alcohol itself rather than any antioxidants within beverages.

Source: Casual alcohol consumption is associated with less subclinical cardiovascular organ damage in Koreans: a cross-sectional study. Moon et al. BMC Public Health (2018) 18:1091.
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