Study links alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disorders

Consuming a lot of alcohol has long been associated with heart problems, but a new study offers an uncharted perspective on “wet” counties versus “dry” counties and how living in either can affect cardiovascular health.

The study, published June 14 in the British Medical Journal, was led by Jonathan Dukes, a cardiology fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dukes and his team compared dry and wet counties in Texas, using records from a state database to determine how many people over the age of 21 were being hospitalized due to alcohol consumption between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009.

During the period, 47 of Texas’ 254 counties were wet, 29 were dry and seven switched from dry to wet.

Hospital admission records showed that in wet counties, there were more cases of liver disease caused by alcoholic abuse and more incidents of people misusing alcohol than in dry counties.

About 1 million people in wet counties had been admitted to a hospital at least once, with a total of 2.3 million admissions. Dry counties had significantly less residents admitted to a hospital at least once at about 60,000 with 139,192 total admissions.

In counties that lifted their alcohol ban during the study period, about 43,000 people were admitted to a hospital before converting and data showed a similar number after.

Similarly, the presence of atrial fibrillation was about 5 percent higher in wet counties than in dry counties. However, the number of heart attacks was 17 percent lower in wet counties than in dry.

“We have shown, for the first time, that laws limiting alcohol sales have measurable public health effects,” the authors wrote in the study. “Increased access to alcohol was consistently associated with more atrial fibrillation and less myocardial infarction.”

Funded by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the study showed that accessibility to alcohol increases chances of atrial fibrillation, but it was limited in its ability to determine the level at which alcohol consumption becomes dangerous.