Even a glass of wine a day is risky

the essentials in brief

  • Question: Is alcohol consumption associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation?
  • Answer: The daily consumption of an eighth of wine or a small beer is already associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
  • Importance: The results should be considered in the prevention of atrial fibrillation.
  • Restriction: It is an observational study and the alcohol consumption of the study participants is based on self-reports.


The English term for an abstinent person leaves no room for doubt: the so-called tea totaler has renounced alcohol and instead devotes himself to enjoying harmless hot drinks.

According to a recent study, he is doing everything right: Even a small glass of alcoholic drink per day is associated with a 16 percent increased risk of atrial fibrillation compared to not drinking alcohol, researchers found (European Heart Journal 2021; online 13. Januar).

While previous studies had shown that high alcohol consumption increases the risk of other heart diseases, but small amounts can also have protective effects, studies on atrial fibrillation have provided contradicting results.

The largest study to date shows, however, that lower regular alcohol consumption is also associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

Data from almost 100,000 people

Researcher around Dr. Dora Csengeri from the University Heart and Vascular Center Hamburg analyzed data from almost 100,000 people from different countries who did not have atrial fibrillation at the start of the study. They were medically examined and asked about drinking habits, risk factors and lifestyle, and clinical data on diseases were also available. Cardiac biomarkers such as NT-proBNP or highly sensitive troponin I were measured in a good 54,000 study participants.

Within the 14-year follow-up period, almost 6000 people developed atrial fibrillation. The higher the regular alcohol consumption, the greater the risk of the disease: Compared to abstinent persons, it was increased by 16 percent with one drink a day, with up to two drinks a day by 28 percent and with more than four drinks by 47 percent . The associations did not differ according to the type of alcohol or gender.

A drink was defined as 12 g of alcohol, which corresponds to one eighth of wine (120 ml) or a small beer (330 ml). The average alcohol consumption was 3 g per day. The subjects were on average 48 years old, half were women.

Weigh risk and benefit

“The results are important in that regular alcohol consumption, the“ glass of wine a day to protect the heart ”as recommended in the popular press, should no longer be suggested without the risk and benefit for all cardiovascular health Weighing diseases, including atrial fibrillation, ”the authors say.

The researchers cannot explain why even small amounts of alcohol are associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. Only associations were observed, but no causal relationships were proven.

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