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Research Summary

Lifetime Drinking and the Metabolic Syndrome

Whether lifetime drinking affects the risk of the metabolic syndrome is largely unknown. Researchers examined this possible relationship in a population-based sample of 2818 subjects aged 35–79 years. All subjects drank at least once a month for at least 6 months during their lifetimes and were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer when they were interviewed. Analyses were adjusted for potential confounders (e.g., age, sex, smoking status).

  • As lifetime drinking intensity increased, the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and most of its components significantly increased. (Lifetime drinking intensity was defined as the total number of drinks over a lifetime divided by the total number of drinking days over a lifetime).

    • For example, prevalence ratios for the metabolic syndrome were 1.2, 1.4, and 1.6 for subjects in the second, third, and fourth quartiles of lifetime drinking intensity, respectively (versus subjects in the lowest quartile).
  • As the number of lifetime drinking days increased, the prevalence of abdominal obesity in women and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol significantly decreased.


Studies of lifetime drinking are desirable, but their validity can be difficult to judge because they are rarely prospective. Results depend on the recall of amounts consumed in the distant past; any errors in these estimates get multiplied when calculating lifetime intake. At least in this study, the researchers used an intensive and extensively studied interview method with known reliability. Further, the results support past findings: increasing per-occasion amounts of alcohol are harmful, while more frequent drinking may be protective.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD


Fan AZ, Russell M, Dorn J, et al. Lifetime alcohol drinking pattern is related to the prevalence of metabolic syndrome: the Western New York Health Study (WNYHS). Euro J Epidemiol. 2006;21(2):129–138.