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: We investigated the association of alcohol consumption with cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular mortality in elderly Chinese men. METHODS: Our participants were recruited from residents living in a suburban town of Shanghai (>/=60 years of age, n = 1702). Alcohol intake was classified as non-drinkers, past drinkers (stopped drinking for >/=12 months), and current light-to-moderate (1 to 299 g/week) and heavy drinkers (>/=300 g/week). Alcoholic beverages were classified as beer/wine, rice aperitif and liquor/mix drinking. RESULTS: During 5.9 years (median) of follow-up, all-cause, cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular deaths occurred in 211, 98 and 113 participants, respectively. The corresponding incidence rates were 23.6/1000, 10.9/1000 and 12.6/1000 person-years, respectively. Both before and after adjustment for confounding factors, compared with non-drinkers (n = 843), past…
Many studies conclude that wine consumption is related to lower risk for cardiovascular diseases partially through the amelioration of inflammatory biomarkers. The aim of the present study was to examine the effects of wine consumption on the inflammatory response and to compare these effects with the consumption of similar amount of alcohol without the wine micro-constituents in cardiovascular disease patients. Therefore, a randomized, single-blind, controlled, three-arm parallel intervention study was designed. Cardiovascular disease patients were randomly assigned to one of the three groups. In Group A participants consumed no alcohol, in Group B (ethanol group) and Group C (wine group) participants consumed 27 g of alcohol per day. Biological samples were collected at the beginning, on the 4th and 8th…
We assessed, for the first time, to what extent the composition of the gut microbiome might explain the cross-sectional association of habitual flavonoid and flavonoid-rich food intake with systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP) in a community-based sample (N=904) from Northern Germany. Gut microbiome composition was sequenced from 16S ribosomal RNA genes. Higher total flavonoid intakes and specifically the polymer subclass were associated with lower systolic BP (SBP; β T3-T1: −2.9% [95% CI, −5.1 to −0.7], P=0.01 and −3.7% [95% CI, −5.4 to −1.0], P=0.01). In food-based analyses, a higher intake of berries (SBP, β Q4-Q1: −2.9% [95% CI, −5.2 to −0.6], P=0.01; pulse pressure, −5.5% [95% CI, −9.6 to −1.2], P=0.01) and red wine (SBP, β Q4-Q1: −2.6% [95%…
Postmenopausal women are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases due to changes in lipid profile and body fat, among others. The aim of this study was to evaluate the association of urinary tartaric acid, a biomarker of wine consumption, with anthropometric (weight, waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), and waist-to-height ratio), blood pressure, and biochemical variables (blood glucose and lipid profile) that may be affected during the menopausal transition. This sub-study of the PREDIMED (Prevencion con Dieta Mediterranea) trial included a sample of 230 women aged 60-80 years with high cardiovascular risk at baseline. Urine samples were diluted and filtered, and tartaric acid was analyzed by liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS/MS). Correlations between tartaric…
Alcohol consumption has been shown to have complex, and sometimes paradoxical, associations with cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Several hundred epidemiological studies on this topic have been published in recent decades. In this narrative review, the epidemiological evidence will be examined for the associations between alcohol consumption, including average alcohol consumption, drinking patterns, and alcohol use disorders, and CVDs, including ischaemic heart disease, stroke, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure. Methodological shortcomings, such as exposure classification and measurement, reference groups, and confounding variables (measured or unmeasured) are discussed. Based on systematic reviews and meta-analyses, the evidence seems to indicate non-linear relationships with many CVDs. Large-scale longitudinal epidemiological studies with multiple detailed exposure and outcome measurements, and the extensive assessment of genetic…
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