The cardioprotective association of average alcohol consumption and ischaemic heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Addiction. 2012 Jul;107(7):1246-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03780.x. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Aims: Most, but not all, epidemiological studies suggest a cardioprotective association for low to moderate average alcohol consumption. The objective was to quantify the dose-response relationship between average alcohol consumption and ischaemic heart disease (IHD) stratified by sex and IHD end-point (mortality versus morbidity).

Methods: A systematic search of published studies using electronic databases (1980-2010) identified 44 observational studies (case-control or cohort) reporting a relative risk measure for average alcohol intake in relation to IHD risk. Generalized least-squares trend models were used to derive the best-fitting dose-response curves in stratified continuous meta-analyses. Categorical meta-analyses were used to verify uncertainty for low to moderate levels of consumption in comparison to long-term abstainers.

Results: The analyses used 38,627 IHD events (mortality or morbidity) among 957,684 participants. Differential risk curves were found by sex and end-point. Although some form of a cardioprotective association was confirmed in all strata, substantial heterogeneity across studies remained unexplained and confidence intervals were relatively wide, in particular for average consumption of one to two drinks/day.

Conclusions: A cardioprotective association between alcohol use and ischaemic heart disease cannot be assumed for all drinkers, even at low levels of intake. More evidence on the overall benefit-risk ratio of average alcohol consumption in relation to ischaemic heart disease and other diseases is needed in order to inform the general public or physicians about safe or low-risk drinking levels.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / mortality*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Myocardial Ischemia / mortality*
  • Prognosis
  • Sex Distribution