PURPOSE: Moderate alcohol use is part of a healthy lifestyle, yet current guidelines caution nondrinkers against starting to drink alcohol in middle age. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether adopting moderate alcohol consumption in middle age would result in subsequent lower cardiovascular risk.
METHODS: This study examined a cohort of adults aged 45-64 years participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study over a 10-year period. The primary outcome was fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular events.
RESULTS: Of 7697 participants who had no history of cardiovascular disease and were nondrinkers at baseline, within a 6-year follow-up period, 6.0% began moderate alcohol consumption (2 drinks per day or fewer for men, 1 drink per day or fewer for women) and 0.4% began heavier drinking. After 4 years of follow-up, new moderate drinkers had a 38% lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease than did their persistently nondrinking counterparts. This difference persisted after adjustment for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors (odds ratio 0.62, 95% confidence interval, 0.40-0.95). There was no difference in all-cause mortality between the new drinkers and persistent nondrinkers (odds ratio 0.71, 95% confidence interval, 0.31-1.64).
CONCLUSION: People who newly begin consuming alcohol in middle age rarely do so beyond recommended amounts. Those who begin drinking moderately experience a relatively prompt benefit of lower rates of cardiovascular disease morbidity with no change in mortality rates after 4 years.