Cardiovascular risks and benefits of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2015 Oct;12(10):576-87. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2015.91. Epub 2015 Jun 23.


The heart and vascular system are susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol. Alcohol is an active toxin that undergoes widespread diffusion throughout the body, causing multiple synchronous and synergistic effects. Alcohol consumption decreases myocardial contractility and induces arrhythmias and dilated cardiomyopathy, resulting in progressive cardiovascular dysfunction and structural damage. Alcohol, whether at binge doses or a high cumulative lifetime consumption-both of which should be discouraged-is clearly deleterious for the cardiovascular system, increasing the incidence of total and cardiovascular mortality, coronary and peripheral artery disease, heart failure, stroke, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, and diabetes mellitus. However, epidemiological, case-control studies and meta-analyses have shown a U-type bimodal relationship so that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption (particularly of wine or beer) is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular events and mortality, compared with abstention. Potential confounding influences-alcohol-dose quantification, tobacco use, diet, exercise, lifestyle, cancer risk, accidents, and dependence-can affect the results of studies of both low-dose and high-dose alcohol consumption. Mendelian methodological approaches have led to doubts regarding the beneficial cardiovascular effects of alcohol, and the overall balance of beneficial and detrimental effects should be considered when making individual and population-wide recommendations, as reductions in alcohol consumption should provide overall health benefits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking* / adverse effects
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Public Health
  • Risk Factors