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A new study presented at the 2024 Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology has found that moderate to high alcohol consumption in both men and women is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, with this link being more prominent in women than in men. Led by Dr. Jamal Rana from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, the study enrolled 430,000 members, including 243,000 men and 189,000 women, over a two-year period between 2014 and 2015. Participants, with an average age of 44 years and no preexisting heart disease, were asked about their alcohol consumption during routine well-care visits. Those who reported no alcohol intake were not included in the study.

The study categorized alcohol intake according to the following metrics: low intake as one to two drinks per week for both men and women, moderate intake as three to 14 drinks per week for men and three to seven drinks per week for women, high intake as 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks per week for women, and binge drinking as four or more drinks in one day for men and three or more drinks in one day for women within the prior three months. Over the following four years, participants were monitored for the development of heart disease, particularly focusing on coronary artery disease, which results from the buildup of calcifications or plaques in the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart muscle.

The study found that just over 3,000 participants developed coronary artery disease in the four years following the study. Those who reported high levels of alcohol intake had a higher likelihood of developing heart disease, with men reporting high intake having a 33% higher risk compared to those with moderate intake. In women, these differences were even more significant, with women reporting high alcohol intake having a 45% higher likelihood of heart disease compared to those with low intake and a 29% higher risk compared to those with moderate intake. Additionally, women who reported binge drinking had a 68% higher likelihood of heart disease compared to women reporting moderate alcohol intake.

Historically, it was believed that women had a lower risk of heart disease than men, partially due to the protective effects of estrogen in premenopausal years. However, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States, with coronary artery disease being the most common cause, often resulting from unrecognized or poorly managed high blood pressure. Alcohol consumption is also recognized as a risk factor for developing high blood pressure and, subsequently, heart disease. Recognizing that heart disease in women is often overlooked, the study emphasizes the importance of considering gender-specific risk factors, such as early- or late-onset menarche, presence of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), autoimmune disorders, certain pregnancy-related disorders, and menopause transition, along with alcohol consumption, as notable markers for future cardiac issues in women.

In conclusion, the study underscores the significant impact of alcohol consumption on the development of heart disease, particularly in women. With women’s risk factors for heart disease becoming more apparent, it is essential to recognize the role of alcohol intake as a contributing factor. This research highlights the need for healthcare providers to consider alcohol consumption as a risk factor for heart disease in women and to provide appropriate interventions and support to reduce this risk. Ultimately, understanding the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease can lead to more effective prevention strategies and improved cardiovascular health outcomes, especially for women.

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