Alcohol - Friend or foe? Its association with cardiovascular disease and cancer

C. Lionis, E. Stefanou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Alcohol consumption has been associated with a number of chronic diseases, psychoses and other health-related problems. This review discusses recent epidemiological data concerning the effects of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, since these two disease categories along with traffic accidents and work injuries, are among the main causes of overall mortality. Structural morphological changes, preclinical cardiomyopathy, hypertension and atrial fibrillation are observed more frequently among individuals with heavy alcohol intake. Most major studies have demonstrated a U-shaped relationship between the level of alcohol consumption and all cause mortality, largely as a consequence of lower death rates from coronary heart disease recorded in moderate drinkers. Recent epidemiological data continue to support alcoholic beverage consumption as a cause of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and liver. Whether alcoholic beverage consumption is a cause of cancer of the breast or large bowel is unclear. The effect of a specific level of alcohol intake on the absolute risk of cancer of the head, neck and esophagus depends on the presence of other risk factors, especially smoking. The biologically effective dose of alcohol on mortality in women is approximately two standard drinks per day less than that in men. Despite some reports which support that drinking small amounts of alcohol may prolong life, the WHO denounces the possible health benefits of alcohol, emphasizing the importance of other ways of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The problem of recommended 'safe limits' of alcohol intake is discussed. The methodological difficulties along with the epidemiological studies inherent in are presented and subjects which have not been fully explored research priorities, are listed at the end of the review.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-541
Number of pages8
JournalArchives of Hellenic Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1997


  • Alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol use
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease


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