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Reduction in risk of coronary heart disease from alcohol consumption

May involve mechanisms other than an increase in HDL-cholesterol

Boston University Medical Center

In a prospective, observational study of approximately 150,000 Norwegians, the investigators found that alcohol consumption was associated with a large decrease in the risk of death from coronary artery disease. For men, the fully adjusted hazard ratio for cardiac death was 0.52 (95% CI 0.39 - 0.69) when comparing subjects reporting more than one drink/week in comparison with those reporting never or rarely drinking; for women, it was 0.62 (0.3-.23). There was little change in the hazard ratio when HDL-cholesterol (HDL) was added to the model, suggesting that very little of the lower risk of heart disease was due to an increase in HDL from alcohol consumption.

Forum members considered this a well-done analysis. They were surprised at the very low amounts of alcohol intake reported by the subjects, with only 16% of males and about 8% of females reporting more than one drink/week. It is possible that the low levels of drinking, or perhaps over-adjustment in the multivariable analysis, led to the lack of effect of HDL. Most other studies have shown a much larger proportion of the effect of alcohol on heart disease risk to be associated with an increase in HDL.


Reference: Magnus P, Bakke E, Hoff DA, Høiseth G, Graff-Iversen S, Knudsen GP, Myhre R, Normann PT, Næss Ø, Tambs K, Thelle DS, Mørland J.
Controlling for High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Does Not Affect the Magnitude of the Relationship Between Alcohol and Coronary Heart Disease. Circulation 2011;124: DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.036491

Comments on this critique by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research were provided by the following members:

Ian Puddey, MD, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Australia

Arne Svilaas, MD, PhD, general practice and lipidology, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway

Harvey Finkel, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

Ulrich Keil, MD, PhD, Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, University of Münster, Münster, Germany

R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Section of Preventive Medicine & Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

Giovanni de Gaetano, MD, PhD, Research Laboratories, Catholic University, Campobasso, Italy

Fulvio Ursini, MD, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

David Vauzour, PhD, Senior Research Associate, Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

For the detailed critique of this paper by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, go to and click on:

The specialists who are members of the Forum are happy to respond to questions from Health Editors regarding emerging research on alcohol and health and will offer an independent opinion in context with other research on the subject

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