Study: One Alcoholic Drink a Day Linked to Increased Risk of Atrial Fibrillation

People who regularly consume just 1 alcoholic drink a day are at a 16% increased risk of atrial fibrillation compared to those who do not drink alcohol at all, a new study found.

A new study published January 13, 2020 in the European Heart Journal found that people who regularly consume even a small amount of alcohol per day are at increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AF).

Tracking data from nearly 108 000 people, researchers found that, compared to drinking no alcohol, just 1 alcoholic drink per day—such as a single beer or glass of wine—was associated with a 16% increased risk of AF over a median follow-up of approximately 14 years.

Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to a greater risk of developing heart failure but results from this newest study indicate that the relationship between alcohol and AF is multifaceted.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest study on alcohol consumption and long-term incidence of atrial fibrillation in the community. Previous studies have not had enough power to examine this question, although they have been able to show a relationship between alcohol intake and other heart and blood vessel problems, such as heart attack and heart failure. In our study, we can now demonstrate that even very low regular alcohol consumption may increase the risk of atrial fibrillation,” said lead author Renate B. Schnabel, MD, MSc, consultant cardiologist, University Heart and Vascular Center, Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, in a press release.

Schnabel and colleagues analyzed information on 107 845 people (median age, 47.8 years; 48.3% men) participating in 5 community-based studies in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Italy.

Study participants underwent medical examinations at the time they joined the studies between 1982 and 2010 and gave information on their medical histories, lifestyles (including alcohol and tobacco intake), employment, and education levels.

Approximately 100 000 participants did not have AF when they joined the study. During the median follow-up of 14 years, 5 854 participants developed AF, and the associations between alcohol intake and risk of AF were similar for all types of alcoholic drinks and for men and women.

Also, the results showed that the risk of AF increased with increasing alcohol consumption. Consuming 1-2 drinks/day was associated with a 28% increased risk of AF and consuming ≥4 drinks/day was associated with a 47% increased risk.

In the same press release, Schnabel added that drinking a small amount of alcohol has been seen as beneficial to cardiovascular health but warned that it should not be recommended moving forward.

“These findings are important as the regular consumption of alcohol, the ‘one glass of wine a day’ to protect the heart, as is often recommended for instance in the lay press, should probably no longer be suggested without balancing risks and possible benefits for all heart and blood vessel diseases, including atrial fibrillation,” said Schnabel in the same press release.