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.

Several studies have reported a J-shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. However, the mechanisms of this relationship remain unclear. This study aimed to evaluate the relationships of alcohol consumption with established CHD risk factors and with macro-/micro-nutrient intake among Japanese people. Participants were 1,090 Japanese men and women aged 40-59 y enrolled in the INTERLIPID study, excluding former drinkers. Based on two 7-d alcohol records, participants were classified as non-drinkers (0 g/wk), light-drinkers (/=300 g/wk). Detailed macro-/micro-nutrient intake was evaluated using four in-depth 24-h dietary recalls and adjusted for total energy intake excluding alcohol. We analyzed the associations of CHD risk factors and nutrient intake with alcohol consumption. Serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and blood pressure…
BACKGROUND: Studies regarding whether light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) have generated mixed results. Further, few studies have examined the potential impact of alcohol consumption on diverse disease outcomes simultaneously. We aimed to prospectively study the dose-response association between alcohol consumption and risk of CVD, cancer, and mortality. METHODS: This study included 83,732 adult Chinese participants, free of CVD and cancer at baseline. Participants were categorized into 6 groups based on self-report alcohol consumption: 0, 1-25, 26-150, 151-350, 351-750, and > 750 g alcohol/wk. Incident cases of CVD, cancers, and mortality were confirmed by medical records. Hazard ratios (HRs) for the composite risk of these three outcomes, and each individual outcome,…
Ingestion of alcohol is associated with numerous changes in human energy metabolism, especially that of plasma lipids and lipoproteins. Regular moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), an effect that has been attributed to the concurrent elevations of plasma high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) concentrations. More recent evidence has accrued against the hypothesis that raising plasma HDL concentrations prevents ASCVD so that other metabolic processes associated with alcohol consumption have been considered. This review explored the roles of other metabolites induced by alcohol consumption-triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, non-esterified free fatty acids, and acetate, the terminal alcohol metabolite in athero-protection: Current evidence suggests that acetate has a key role in athero-protection but additional studies are needed.
BACKGROUND: Studies regarding whether light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) have generated mixed results. Further, few studies have examined the potential impact of alcohol consumption on diverse disease outcomes simultaneously. We aimed to prospectively study the dose-response association between alcohol consumption and risk of CVD, cancer, and mortality. METHODS: This study included 83,732 adult Chinese participants, free of CVD and cancer at baseline. Participants were categorized into 6 groups based on self-report alcohol consumption: 0, 1-25, 26-150, 151-350, 351-750, and > 750 g alcohol/wk. Incident cases of CVD, cancers, and mortality were confirmed by medical records. Hazard ratios (HRs) for the composite risk of these three outcomes, and each individual outcome,…
BACKGROUND: Excessive alcohol consumption is related to atrial fibrillation (AF) development in the general population. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of alcohol consumption on new-onset AF development in asymptomatic healthy individuals. METHODS: Asymptomatic healthy adults (age
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