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.

BACKGROUND: Alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease (CVD) have a complex relation. OBJECTIVES: We examined the associations between alcohol consumption, fasting plasma proteins, and CVD risk. METHODS: We performed cross-sectional association analyses of alcohol consumption with 71 CVD-related plasma proteins, and also performed prospective association analyses of alcohol consumption and protein concentrations with 3 CVD risk factors (obesity, hypertension, and diabetes) in 6745 Framingham Heart Study (FHS) participants (mean age 49 y; 53% women). RESULTS: A unit increase in log10 transformed alcohol consumption (g/d) was associated with an increased risk of hypertension (HR = 1.14; 95% CI: 1.04, 1.26; P = 0.007), and decreased risks of obesity (HR = 0.80; 95% CI: 0.71, 0.91; P = 4.6 x 10-4) and diabetes…
In the past few decades, research has focused on the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors as a means of lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which represents the worldwide leading cause of death. For quite a long time, it has been considered that ethanol intake has a biphasic impact on the cardiovascular system, mainly depending on the drinking pattern, amount of consumption, and type of alcoholic beverage. Multiple case-control studies and meta-analyses reported the existence of a "U-type" or "J-shaped" relationship between alcohol and CVD, as well as mortality, indicating that low to moderate alcohol consumption decreases the number of adverse cardiovascular events and deaths compared to abstinence, while excessive alcohol use has unquestionably deleterious effects on the…
BACKGROUND: The prevalence of alcohol misuse among older adults has grown dramatically in the past decade, yet little is known about the association of alcohol misuse with hospitalization and death in this patient population. METHODS: We examined the association between alcohol use (measured by a screening instrument in primary care) and rates of all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related 6-month hospitalization or death via electronic health records (EHRs) in a nationally representative sample of older, high-risk Veterans. Models were adjusted for sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, including frailty and comorbid conditions. RESULTS: The all-cause hospitalization or death rate at 6 months was 14.9%, and the CVD-related hospitalization or death rate was 1.8%. In adjusted analyses, all-cause hospitalization or death was higher in…
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: The associations of alcohol consumption and venous thromboembolism (VTE) have been investigated widely, but the conclusions were inconsistent. OBJECTIVE: To summarize the relationship of alcohol consumption and VTE. METHODS: This study has been registered in PROSPERO (ID: CRD42020164567). We searched the PubMed, Embase, Web of Science and the Cochrane Library databases from inception to September 2019 and reviewed the reference list of relevant articles to identify studies assessing the association between alcohol consumption and risk of VTE. RESULTS: Fourteen cohorts and four case-control studies were included in the meta-analysis. Compared with non-drinkers, the risk of VTE was decreased (RR: 0.93; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.88-0.99) for alcohol drinkers. The pooled RRs of VTE were 0.91 (95% CI 0.84-0.99) for…
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