It is already known that light alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of heart failure. Now it appears that formers drinkers have a higher risk of heart failure. That is the conclusion of a new meta-analysis that was recently published in the scientific journal Clinical Nutrition.

Former drinkers
Light alcohol consumption (up to 7 drinks per week) reduces the risk of heart failure with 14% compared to non-drinkers. Former drinkers on the other hand have a 22% increased risk of heart failure. That is the conclusion of researchers who analysed data from 13 studies including over 350,000 participants1. The researchers think that the increased risk among former drinkers could be due to the worse health and higher prevalence of hypertension in this group compared to moderate or non-drinkers. Worsening of health has been found to be associated with cessation of alcohol consumption, leading to so called sick-quitters.

The mechanism behind the association between light alcohol consumption and the reduced risk of heart failure is uncertain. It may be mediated by the influence of alcohol on the blood flow through the heart. The association could also be related to the beneficial effects of alcohol on coronary artery diseases.

Although no significant association was found between moderate or heavy drinking and heart failure, the results show a clear J-shaped trend. The risk of heart failure among light drinkers is lower compared to non-drinkers. With increasing alcohol consumption, the risk of heart failure increases again.

In perspective
This trend confirms what has been found in previous studies. But this is the first meta-analysis to show that former drinking is associated with an increased risk of heart failure. More research is needed to investigate the mechanism behind these associations and to provide insight into the potential causal relation between alcohol and heart failure. More research is also needed to look into different alcoholic beverages.

1. Larsson SC, et al., Alcohol consumption and risk of heart failure: Meta-analysis of 13 prospective studies, Clinical Nutrition (2017).


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