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Research Summary

Alcohol Use and Subclinical Carotid Atherosclerosis

While many studies have linked alcohol intake with vascular diseases, few have examined its association with subclinical atherosclerosis. In this study, researchers assessed whether alcohol intake could decrease carotid intima-media thickness (IMT, a marker for atherosclerosis severity) in 1230 male and 1190 female participants of a health study in northeastern Germany.

  • In analyses adjusted for age, diabetes, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, lifestyle patterns, and education, the relationship between IMT and alcohol intake in men was J-shaped. Men who drank between 5 and 6 drinks per day had the lowest mean IMT.
  • This relationship became borderline significant when analyses adjusted for either high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or fibrinogen, and became nonsignificant when analyses adjusted for both.
  • Alcohol intake did not significantly affect IMT in women.

Comments:

The results of this study add to the conflicting picture of alcohol’s effects on subclinical atherosclerosis, whether estimated by carotid IMT or by calcified plaque in the coronary arteries. While this study found a beneficial effect on IMT from high levels of alcohol intake in men, many other studies have shown little or no effect. These findings suggest that cardiovascular events prevented by moderate drinking may be due more to factors affecting clotting and endothelial function than to atherosclerosis.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD

Reference:

Schminke U, Luedemann J, Berger K, et al. Association between alcohol consumption and subclinical carotid atherosclerosis. The Study of Health in Pomerania. Stroke. 2005;36(8):1746–1752.


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