Regular drinking begun in mid-life lowers risk of CHD, but not mortality

LONDON (Reuters Health) – Men who start regular alcohol consumption in middle age lower their risk of major coronary heart disease (CHD) events, but increase their risk of mortality from other causes, UK researchers report in the January 2002 issue of Heart.

Drs. S. G. Wannamethee and A. G. Shaper from the Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, collected data on 7735 men, 40 to 59 years of age, from general practices in the UK. Five years after initial screening, 7157 men completed questionnaires about their changes in alcohol consumption.

During 16.8 years of follow-up, among the 6503 men who did not have coronary heart disease at the 5-year evaluation, there were 874 major cardiac events and 1613 total deaths. Men who were regular drinkers and men who were occasional drinkers had a significantly lower risk of major coronary heart disease and death from heart disease but a slightly higher risk of death from other causes, the researchers report.

Men who were new drinkers had a lower risk of major coronary heart disease events compared with occasional drinkers (relative risk 0.70, p = 0.07). However, new drinkers did not have a reduction in death from coronary heart disease or cardiovascular mortality compared with occasional drinkers. New drinkers also had an increased risk of non-cardiovascular mortality (relative risk 1.40, p = 0.06), the UK investigators note.

Among the 654 men with coronary heart disease, those who were new drinkers did not achieve a benefit in mortality compared with occasional drinkers, Drs. Wannamethee and Shaper add.

"Our findings do not provide unconditional support for encouraging older men who do not drink or who only drink occasionally to take up regular drinking, whether or not they have coronary heart disease," they conclude.

Heart 2002;87:32-36.

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