January 12, 2020 - Researchers from the University of Glasgow, UK, have published online in the journal BMC Medicine a study entitled "Association between patterns of alcohol consumption (beverage type, frequency and consumption with food) and risk of adverse health outcomes: a prospective cohort study.
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The study showed that when total alcohol consumption was the same, drinking without food had a higher mortality and cardiovascular risk than drinking with food; switching from binge drinking to drinking with food three or four times a week significantly reduced the risk of serious alcohol-related disease.
The study analyzed 309,123 participants from 22 different assessment centers in UK Biobank, and the age range of the study sample participants was 38 to 73 years.
The study analyzed participant characteristics and their drinking patterns, type of alcohol and health risks, whether they ate food while drinking and health risks, and frequency of drinking and health risks.
Types of alcohol and health risks
The effects of certain drinking patterns were particularly severe for those who consumed primarily spirits, with a 25% increased risk of death from all causes and a 48% increased risk of cirrhosis compared to those who consumed primarily wine.
Those who drank mostly beer or cider also had a higher risk than wine drinkers, with an 18% increased risk of death and a 36% increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver. Drinking spirits and beer also increased the risk of accidents or self-harm by about 10% compared to wine drinkers.
The analysis found that those who regularly consumed spirits or beer and cider had a higher risk of death than those who consumed equal amounts of wine.
There is no food for drinking and health risks
Absolute event rates of death, cirrhosis, and other accidents were higher among participants without food drinking. The relative risk of corrected all-cause mortality was higher in participants without food drinking than in those with food drinking. Across the entire range of weekly alcohol consumption, the 7-year predicted odds of death and experiencing a major cardiovascular event event were higher in subjects who drank without food.
Studies have found that skipping meals and drinking can lead to a 10 percent increased risk of major diseases such as heart disease.
Frequency of alcohol consumption and health risks
Adjusted relative risks of mortality and major cardiovascular events were higher among participants who drank once or twice a week compared with those who drank 3-4 days a week, while participants who drank daily or almost daily were found to have a higher relative risk of major cardiovascular event correction. Frequency of alcohol consumption during the week was not associated with the incidence of all-cause and alcohol-related cancers. Participants who drank alcohol on 3 to 4 consecutive days in a week had lower predicted probabilities of mortality and major cardiovascular events and correspondingly lower absolute event rates.
Binge drinking over a short period of time also had serious side effects compared to spreading the same amount of alcohol over three or four days, with one to two days of alcohol abuse leading to a 14% increase in cardiovascular disease.
So, in addition to complete abstinence from alcohol, the greatest benefit comes from drinking 3 to 4 days a week, rather than daily drinking or binge drinking.
Scientists say previous research suggests that polyphenols in wine may have a role in preventing disease and illnesses associated with other alcoholic beverages, and that casual dining may lead to lower blood alcohol levels.
Overall, regular drinkers of hard alcohol had a higher risk of mortality, cardiovascular events, cirrhosis, and accidents. Similarly, when total alcohol consumption was the same, drinking without food was associated with higher mortality and cardiovascular risk than drinking with food. Finally, drinking 3-4 days per week was associated with a lower risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cirrhosis compared with daily drinking, and with a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease compared with heavy drinking.