Alcohol May Decrease Heart Attacks But Increase Cancer Risk Interview with:
Dr Andrew Smyth PhD
Population Health Research Institute,
McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences
Hamilton, ON, Canada

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr Smyth: Alcohol consumption is proposed to be the third most important modifiable risk factor for death and disability. However, alcohol consumption has been associated with both benefits and harms and previous studies were mostly done in high income countries. In this study we explored the associations between alcohol consumption and clinical outcomes in a prospective cohort study of 12 countries from different economic levels. Over an average of four years of follow-up of almost 115,000 participants, we found that although current drinking was associated with a 24% reduction in risk of heart attack, there was no reduction in the risk of death or stroke, and there was a 51% increase in risk of alcohol-related cancers (mouth, oesophagus, stomach, colorectum, liver, breast, ovary and head and neck) and a 29% increase in risk of injury. For a combination of all outcomes, we found no overall benefit from current alcohol use. We also found differences between countries of different income levels: for higher income countries current drinking was associated with a 16% reduction in risk of the combined outcome, but in lower income countries there was a 38% increase in risk.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr Smyth: Our student shows that although there was a reduction in risk of heart attack, there were no reduction in risks of death or stroke and an increased risk of cancer and injury. Overall, we showed no benefit from current drinking. In particular, harmful alcohol use (high intake or heavy episodic drinking pattern) was associated with increased risks. Our data support the call to increase the global awareness of the importance of the harmful use of alcohol (for both patients and clinicians). As alcohol consumption is increasing in many countries, particularly in lower income countries, there is a need to further identify and target the modifiable determinants of harmful alcohol use.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr Smyth: These analyses are the first report of the association between alcohol consumption and health outcomes from the PURE study, which is ongoing. As the PURE study continues, the duration of follow-up will increase, as will the number of clinical outcomes. This will allow further analyses and exploration of the association between alcohol consumption and health outcomes.


Alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease, cancer, injury, admission to hospital, and mortality: a prospective cohort study

Smyth, Andrew et al.
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Dr Andrew Smyth PhD (2015). Alcohol May Decrease Heart Attacks But Increase Cancer Risk 

Last Updated on September 17, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD