Physicians' Academy for Cardiovascular Education

Heavy alcohol consumption associated with more arterial stiffness

Twenty-Five-Year Alcohol Consumption Trajectories and Their Association With Arterial Aging: A prospective Cohort Study

Literature - O’Neill D, Britton A, Brunner EJ, et al. - J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6:e005288


It is suggested that moderate levels of alcohol intake decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, however underlying mechanisms are not fully understood, nor the impact of changes in drinking levels over time [1]. Prior research suggests that the association between alcohol consumption and pulse wave velocity (PWV), a measure of arterial stiffness, follows a U-/J-shaped relationship [2-5].

Studies that have examined this association have predominantly relied on cross-sectional data, which mask longitudinal variability in consumption levels and hinder comparisons of former drinkers and non-drinkers [1,6]. Moreover, short-and long-term patterns of alcohol intake may have divergent effects on PWV [7].

Using repeating alcohol assessments that include data of more than 2 decades (obtained from the Whitehall II cohort study, 3 869 UK civil servants analysed for this study and recruited between 1985-1988), this study aimed to accurately capture the complexity of how drinking behaviour is associated with arterial stiffness. Primary aims were to determine whether long-term patterns of alcohol consumption are independently associated with baseline assessment of PWV and with longitudinal change in PWV. A secondary aim was to determine whether short-term intake levels showed comparable results. 73.7% of the analysed individuals were male and age ranged from 34-56 years. Last follow-up was in 2012-2013.

Main results


This prospective data from 25 years of alcohol consumption revealed that male heavy drinkers had significantly higher baseline PWV than male moderate consumers, meaning high CV risk for these individuals. Furthermore, all drinker types, regardless of gender, showed increases in their PWV from baseline across a subsequent 4-5 year interval, but only male former drinkers showed significantly accelerated progression.


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