Increased Alcohol Drinking, Heart Disease & Breast Cancer

What are the effects of increased alcohol drinking on heart disease and breast cancer among postmenopausal women?

To examine this question, researchers in Denmark studied 21,523 postmenopausal women. The women were participants in the Diet, Cancer, and Health Study. During a five-year period some women increased their alcohol intake. Some decreased it. And many made no changes. Researchers followed all of them up after 11 years.

Effects of Increased Alcohol Drinking.

Women who increased their drinking over the five year period had a lower risk of coronary heart disease. They also had a higher risk of breast cancer, compared with stable alcohol consumers.

increased alcohol drinking Researchers compared those who increased their intake by seven drinks per week with those who increased it by 14 drinks per week. Those who had the higher increases had the greater decreases in risk of coronary heart disease. They also had the greater increases in risk for breast cancer.

These findings persisted after adjusting for age, body mass index, education and smoking. Also for hormone replacement therapy, Mediterranean diet score, parity, and number of births.

Comparative Risks

The risk of dying from heart disease is about ten to twelve times higher than dying from breast cancer in the U.S. Balancing health risks is a very personal matter. For this reason, women might want to discuss their total risk factors with their doctor. This could help them make well-informed decisions.

Other Research on Effects of Increased Alcohol Drinking.

The results of this study are consistent with a similar earlier one. It followed 7,697 non-drinkers for ten years. During that time 6% began drinking in moderation. After four years, new moderate drinkers had a 38% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than the continuing abstainers. Again, this difference persisted after adjusting for physical activity, body mass index (BMI), demographic and cardiac risk factors,


These studies are important. That’s because they provide more evidence that the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease among moderate drinkers results from the alcohol itself. It can’t be explained away by differences in lifestyle, genetics, or other factors.


Dam, M., et al. Five year change in alcohol intake and risk of breast cancer and coronary heart disease among postmenopausal women. BMJ,  353, Art No i2314, 2016, 10pp.

King, D., et al. Adopting moderate alcohol consumption in middle-age. Am J Med, 2008, 121(3). 201-6.