Alcohol consumption increases risk of heart disease for women : New study

May 8, 2024

According to the results of a new large research study led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, women who consume more than one alcoholic beverage a day had a significantly higher risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to women who drink less. 

The research was presented at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session earlier in March. The study included 432,265 women who were members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California aged 18 to 65 years who did not have a history of heart disease or stroke. Alcohol consumption levels were classified according to the U.S. federal guidelines as follows: low alcohol intake (1 to 2 drinks per week for men and women); moderate (3 to 14 drinks per week for men and 3 to 7 drinks per week for women); or high (15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 or more drinks per week for women). In addition, binge drinking was defined as more than 4 drinks for men or more than 3 drinks for women in a single day in the past 3 months. In addition, binge drinking was defined as consuming over 4 drinks for men or more than 3 drinks for women in a single day in the past 3 months.

The results of the study revealed that young to middle-aged women who reported drinking 8 or more alcoholic beverages per week, which equates to more than one per day, were 33% to 51% more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared with those who consumed less alcohol.

Furthermore, women and men who reported heavy episodic or “binge” drinking had the highest risk of heart disease. Women who reported binge drinking were 68% more likely to develop heart disease compared with women reporting moderate intake, while men who reported binge drinking were 33% more likely to develop heart disease than men who consumed alcohol at a moderate level.

“There has long been this idea that alcohol is good for the heart — but we are seeing growing evidence challenging that notion,” said lead study author Dr. Jamal S. Rana, MD, PhD, a cardiologist with The Permanente Medical Group, and an adjunct investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in a press release. “We felt it was important to leverage comprehensive data we have available at Kaiser Permanente to contribute to this conversation by exploring the relationship between levels of alcohol use, including heavy episodic or ‘binge’ drinking, and the risk of coronary heart disease in women and men.”

During the 4-year follow-up period, 3,108 study participants were diagnosed with coronary heart disease. In addition, women who reported high alcohol intake had a 45% higher risk of heart disease than those reporting low intake and a 29% higher risk than women who reported moderate intake.

“Alcohol has been shown to raise blood pressure and lead to metabolic changes that are associated with inflammation and obesity, both of which increase the risk for heart disease,” said senior study author Dr. Stacy A. Sterling, DrPH, MSW, a research scientist at the Division of Research. “Women also process alcohol differently than men due to biologic and physiologic differences, and this may contribute to the increased heart disease risk we found. It’s concerning because there has been an increasing prevalence of alcohol use among young and middle-aged women, including in the number of women who binge drink.”