Alcohol consumption and the risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality—a linear and nonlinear Mendelian randomization study

Nigussie Assefa Kassaw, Ang Zhou, Anwar Mulugeta, Sang Hong Lee, Stephen Burgess, Elina Hyppönen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Many observational studies support light-to-moderate alcohol intake as potentially protective against premature death. We used a genetic approach to evaluate the linear and nonlinear relationships between alcohol consumption and mortality from different underlying causes. Methods: We used data from 278 093 white-British UK Biobank participants, aged 37–73 years at recruitment and with data on alcohol intake, genetic variants, and mortality. Habitual alcohol consumption was instrumented by 94 variants. Linear Mendelian randomization (MR) analyses were conducted using five complementary approaches, and nonlinear MR analyses by the doubly-ranked method. Results: There were 20 834 deaths during the follow-up (median 12.6 years). In conventional analysis, the association between alcohol consumption and mortality outcomes was ‘J-shaped’. In contrast, MR analyses supported a positive linear association with premature mortality, with no evidence for curvature (Pnonlinearity ≥ 0.21 for all outcomes). The odds ratio [OR] for each standard unit increase in alcohol intake was 1.27 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.16–1.39) for all-cause mortality, 1.30 (95% CI 1.10–1.53) for cardiovascular disease, 1.20 (95% CI 1.08–1.33) for cancer, and 2.06 (95% CI 1.36–3.12) for digestive disease mortality. These results were consistent across pleiotropy-robust methods. There was no clear evidence for an association between alcohol consumption and mortality from respiratory diseases or COVID-19 (1.32, 95% CI 0.96–1.83 and 1.46, 95% CI 0.99–2.16, respectively; Pnonlinearity ≥ 0.21). Conclusion: Higher levels of genetically predicted alcohol consumption had a strong linear association with an increased risk of premature mortality with no evidence for any protective benefit at modest intake levels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 1 Apr 2024


  • Alcohol consumption
  • doubly-ranked method
  • Mendelian randomization
  • mortality
  • nonlinear analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology

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