Alcohol consumption patterns and risk of adverse health outcomes

A large study, led by IHW's Bhautesh Jani and Jim Lewsey, of UK adults who consume alcohol regularly has found that different patterns of alcohol consumption – including drinking red wine, consuming alcohol with food and spreading alcohol intake over three to four days – could be associated with a lesser risk of alcohol related negative health outcomes.

Photo of a glass of whisky

The study, published in BMC Medicine, found that regular spirit and beer/cider drinkers had a higher adjusted risk of death, major cardiovascular events, liver cirrhosis and accidents/self-harm when compared to those who drank red wine, after adjusting for alcohol amount consumed overall.

Similarly, drinking alcohol without food was associated with a 10% higher adjusted relative mortality and cardiovascular risk when compared to alcohol consumed with food in similar average amount.

The results also showed that spreading alcohol consumption over three to four days in a week was associated with lower adjusted relative mortality, cardiovascular and cirrhosis risk than consuming alcohol daily; and lower mortality and cardiovascular risk than binge drinking similar amounts of alcohol.

The study used data from over 309,000 people from the UK Biobank, excluding people who abstain from alcohol, infrequent consumers of alcohol or those with past experience of certain health conditions, such as cancer, myocardial infarction, stroke and liver cirrhosis.

Reflecting on the findings, General Practice and Primary Care's Bhautesh Jani, who co-led the work, said:

"In this study, we wanted to understand the relationship between different alcohol consumption patterns and health risks among those who consume alcohol regularly.

More research is needed, however these findings are important as they may have implications for policy and could allow health professionals to give patients tailored advice on various ways they can reduce the harm of their alcohol consumption.

Our first suggestion would be for regular drinkers to follow the recommended government guidelines. Other ways to further lower the alcohol consumption related health risks, certain risk factors, based on our findings, might be to spread consumption over the course of three or four days – whilst being careful not to increase their overall intake – and consider opting for red wine and drinking with meals where possible."

This project was conceived and developed jointly by General Practice and Primary Care's Dr Bhautesh Jani and Health Economics and Health Technology Assessment's Prof Jim Lewsey, with contributions from several other IHW colleagues.

Association between patterns of alcohol consumption (beverage type, frequency and consumption with food) and risk of adverse health outcomes: A prospective cohort study. Jani, B. D. , McQueenie, R., Nicholl, B. I. , Field, R., Hanlon, P. , Gallacher, K. I. , Mair, F. S. and Lewsey, J. (2020) BMC Medicine

First published: 14 March 2018

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