Study finds only one daily alcoholic drink may jeopardize heart health

The European Society of Cardiology has published a new study that found people who consume one alcoholic drink per day may be at greater risk of developing a type of abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation (afib). The findings join a large body of research on alcohol consumption and its potential health impacts and benefits.

Atrial fibrillation is a risky irregular heartbeat that can also result in a rapid heart rate. The condition can cause various symptoms, including fatigue and shortness of breath, and may lead to more severe outcomes like stroke, blood clots, and heart issues including heart failure.

Regular, high alcohol consumption has long been known to put one's health at risk, including the potential for heart health issues like heart failure. Some studies have found that the risk for heart issues may decrease when someone drinks a moderate amount of alcohol compared to people who don't drink. The risk then increases substantially when consuming large quantities of alcohol.

This new study focused specifically on afib and whether moderate alcohol consumption may increase the risk. The researchers found that moderate amounts of alcohol may reduce the risk of heart failure, it didn't reduce the risk of afib compared to people who abstain.

The findings were based on an analysis of data from 107,845 people who participated in a handful of European studies. Over a median follow-up period of around 14 years, nearly 6,000 participants had developed afib; the study found that compared to people who don't drink, those who consumed one alcoholic beverage daily had a 16-percent risk increase.

As well, the researchers note that the afib risk climbed with increased consumption, jumping to a 28-percent increase at up to two daily drinks and to 47-percent with more than four drinks. The study considers one drink to be 12 grams of ethanol, which can mean a small beer or glass of wine. The means by which alcohol may trigger afib is unclear.