One Alcoholic Drink a Day Can Lead To This Serious Condition, Researchers Say

Amy Capetta
·4-min read

Perhaps it's time to cut back on your favorite cocktail.

According to a study published in the European Heart Journal, consuming a moderate amount of alcohol was linked to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. Otherwise knowns as AFib, the chronic condition is defined by the American Heart Association (AHA) as "a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications."

What else did the study reveal?

Researchers examined the data from nearly 108,000 adults from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Italy over a 28-year period. The volunteers, who entered the study at an average age of 48, underwent routine check-ups where they offered a range of personal information, such as medical history and lifestyle, including alcohol intake. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)

During the halfway point (around year 14), 5,854 of the men and women developed AFib. In fact, the alcohol and AFib association was seen for all types of alcoholic beverages—wine, beer, and spirits. Researchers discovered that those who drank an average of one alcoholic beverage each day (approximately 4 ounces of wine, 11 ounces of beer, or 1.3 ounces of spirit) showed a 16% increased risk of this cardiovascular condition compared to adults who do not consume alcohol.

And the more one drank, the odds of being diagnosed with AFib went up. Two beverages a day was linked to a 28% increased risk, and someone who consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day faced a 47% increased risk.

Related: Symptoms & treatments for atrial fibrillation

Doesn't red wine offer a host of health benefits?

Interestingly, a number of studies over the years have touted wine as a heart-healthy choice. One 2019 study published in the journal Molecules found that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phenolic compounds in red wine may help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Also, professors from Louisiana State University announced in 2018 that they were developing stents (tiny tubes inserted into a blocked narrow artery) made from resveratrol and quercetin—two antioxidants found naturally in red wine—to prevent blood clotting and inflammation.

"In conclusion, we were slightly surprised that neither overall alcohol consumption—nor wine consumption in particular—were protective [of AFib] if consumed at low doses because they have been reported to be protective against, for example, heart attack," Professor Renate Schnabel, senior study author and consultant cardiologist at the University Heart and Vascular Center, Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, tells Eat This, Not That!

"However, earlier reports already suggested that there may not be a beneficial effect for atrial fibrillation, but did not have enough power to examine very low regular alcohol consumption. Our large study could now demonstrate that there may not be a threshold below which alcohol consumption may be protective."

Schnabel points out that he and his team were unaware of the type of wine the participants drank, though. In addition, other elements related to wine consumption, such as socioeconomic status, lifestyle habits, and nutrition, also play a role in one's heart health.

"Therefore, factors other than the type of alcohol itself may have led to inconsistent associations in different studies," he adds.

How common is AFib and what can you do to prevent it?

The AHA states that at least 2.7 million Americans are currently living with AFib. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this heart condition is the cause of more than 454,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S., and the agency calculates that 12.1 million Americans are likely to be diagnosed with AFib in 2030.

An editorial written by two professors from McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada regarding this latest research from Europe suggests that the connection between low consumption of alcohol and AFib needs to be further investigated.

"Until then, each individual has to make their own best-educated decision as to whether consuming up to one alcoholic drink per day is worthwhile and safe," the authors wrote.

Fore more, don't miss Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol Before and After Getting the COVID Vaccine and be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest health news delivered straight to your inbox.