Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and mortality in the Physicians' Health Study enrollment cohort

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2000 Jan;35(1):96-105. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(99)00531-8.


Objectives: This study examined the relationship between light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and cause-specific mortality.

Background: Previous studies suggest a J-shaped relation between alcohol and total mortality in men. A decrease in cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality without a significant increase in other causes of mortality may explain the overall risk reduction at light-to-moderate levels.

Methods: We conducted a prospective cohort study of 89,299 U.S. men from the Physicians' Health Study enrollment cohort who were 40 to 84 years old in 1982 and free of known myocardial infarction, stroke, cancer or liver disease at baseline. Usual alcohol consumption was estimated by a limited food frequency questionnaire.

Results: There were 3,216 deaths over 5.5 years of follow-up. We observed a U-shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and total mortality. Compared with rarely/never drinkers, consumers of 1, 2 to 4 and 5 to 6 drinks per week and 1 drink per day had significant reductions in risk of death (multivariate relative risks [RRs] of 0.74, 0.77, 0.78 and 0.82, respectively) with no overall benefit or harm detected at the > or =2 drinks per day level (RR = 0.95; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.79 to 1.14). The relationship with CVD mortality was inverse or L-shaped with apparent risk reductions even in the highest category of > or =2 drinks per day (RR = 0.76; 95% CI, 0.57 to 1.01). We found no clear harm or benefit for total or common site-specific cancers. For remaining other cancers, there was a nonsignificant 28% increased risk for those consuming > or =2 drinks per day.

Conclusions: These data support a U-shaped relation between alcohol and total mortality among light-to-moderate drinking men. The U-shaped curve may reflect an inverse association for CVD mortality, no association for common site-specific cancers and a possible positive association for less common cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / mortality*
  • Cause of Death*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronary Disease / mortality*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Survival Analysis