People who regularly drink a modest amount of alcohol are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, a condition where the heart beats in an abnormal rhythm.
"These findings are important as the regular consumption of alcohol, the 'one glass of wine a day' to protect the heart, as is often recommended for instance in the lay press, should probably no longer be suggested without balancing risks and possible benefits for all heart and blood vessel diseases, including atrial fibrillation," said researcher Renate Schnabel, a professor at the University Heart and Vascular Center, Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.
For the study the researchers analysed information on 1,07,845 people who underwent medical examinations at the time they joined the studies between 1982 and 2010 and provided information on their medical histories, lifestyles (including alcohol and tobacco consumption), employment and education levels.
A total of 1,00,092 participants did not have atrial fibrillation when they enrolled and their median age was nearly 48 years (ranging between 24 and 97 years).
During the median follow-up period of nearly 14 years, 5,854 people developed atrial fibrillation. The association between alcohol consumption and the risk of atrial fibrillation were similar for all types of alcoholic drinks and for men and women.
In addition to the 16 per cent increased risk of atrial fibrillation compared to teetotallers seen in people who consumed only one alcoholic drink a day, the researchers found that the risk increased with increasing alcohol intake; up to two drinks a day was associated with a 28 per cent increased risk and this went up to 47 per cent for those who consumed more than four.