Drinking a moderate amount of wine or spirits may increase the risk of developing a condition that causes an irregular heart rate, research suggests.
Experts identified a link between consuming between one and three drinks of those forms of alcohol per day and a higher threat of atrial fibrillation (AF).
AF is one of the most common heart rhythm problems, affecting around 800,000 people in the UK.
“Adverse effects of alcohol on atrial fibrillation risk may be less pronounced if alcohol consumption is spread out over the week”
Researchers in Sweden followed 79,016 adults between the ages of 45 and 83 who completed a detailed questionnaire about food and alcohol consumption in 1997. After 12 years they found 7,245 cases of AF.
The study found an association between high alcohol consumption - defined as more than three drinks a day – and increased risk of AF, and a similar pattern with binge drinking.
The latest findings mirrored previous research but the researchers also detected a link between the condition and moderate consumption of wine and ‘hard’ liquor. Moderate drinking was defined as one to three drinks per day.
No such link was found between moderate or binge drinking of beer and increased AF risk, according to the research published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
A further analysis combining the results of the Swedish research with six similar studies indicated the risk of AF increased 8% with each additional drink per day. This work did not differentiate between types of alcohol.
The study raises questions about theories that a moderate amount of alcohol may actually boost health, with red wine in particular said to have a positive impact on the heart.
Lead researcher Susanna Larsson, associate professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, said that while other studies have shown that light to moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial to the heart, it was important to balance these benefits against the potential risk of developing AF.
She said: “We have no explanation for the lack of association with beer consumption. It is likely that beer is consumed more regularly during the week, whereas wine and liquor is more often consumed during weekends only.
“Adverse effects of alcohol on atrial fibrillation risk may be less pronounced if alcohol consumption is spread out over the week compared with consumption of larger amounts of alcohol during a few days per week,” she added.