Although past research has indicated that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, more recent studies suggest that moderate levels of drinking may be hazardous to heart health. A new analysis now sheds new insight on this complex relationship between alcohol consumption and the progression of CVD, showing that a few particular alcohol metabolites strongly influence its protective effects.
Published in the journal BMC Medicine, the study observed a total of 60 alcohol consumption-related metabolites, identifying seven circulating metabolites that link long-term moderate alcohol consumption with an increased risk of CVD, and three circulating metabolites that link this same drinking pattern with a lower risk of CVD.
The findings from the study led by Boston University School of Public Health and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University (Friedman School) detail the molecular pathway of long-term alcohol consumption and show that further research on these metabolites is needed for targeted prevention and treatment of alcohol-related CVD.
“The study findings demonstrate that alcohol consumption may trigger changes of our metabolomic profiles, potentially yielding both beneficial and harmful outcomes,” says Dr Chunyu Liu, assistant professor of biostatistics at BUSPH and co-corresponding/co-senior author of the study along with Dr.Jiantao Ma, assistant professor in the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science at the Friedman School.
“However, rather than definitively settling that debate, this study underscores the intricate effects of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular health and generates a useful hypothesis for future investigations,” Dr Liu says.
The researchers analysed blood samples to measure the association between the cumulative average consumption of beer, wine, and liquor and 211 metabolites among Framingham Heart Study Offspring Study participants, who are the children of participants in the long-running Boston University-based Framingham Heart Study, over 20 years.
Of the 2428 participants, 636 developed CVD over the study period. Among the 60 drinking-related metabolites, 13 metabolites had a stronger association with alcohol consumption in women than in men, perhaps due to higher blood alcohol levels from women’s generally smaller body size versus the same amount of alcohol.
Consuming different types of alcohol was also linked to different metabolomic responses, with beer consumption generating a slightly weaker association overall than wine and liquor.
In roughly two-thirds of the 60 metabolites, higher plasma levels were detected in participants who consumed greater amounts of alcohol. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), were among the metabolites not associated with alcohol consumption.
The researchers then calculated two alcohol consumption-associated metabolite scores, which had opposite associations with the development of CVD.
“While our study presents intriguing findings, validation through state-of-the-art methods and large and diverse study populations is crucial,” Dr Ma says.
“To enhance reliability, we aim to conduct larger-scale research involving a more diverse racial and ethnic background, as the current study participants are all white. In addition, we will expand our study to integrate with other molecular markers such as genetic information to illustrate the complex relationships between alcohol consumption, metabolite features, and cardiovascular risk.”
Source: Boston University School of Public Health