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Moderate Drinking May Help Your Heart

The type of alcohol — beer, wine or spirits — made no difference, the researchers reported in the Nov. 19 online issue of Heart. The Spanish analysis used 10-year data on over 40,000 men and women who were participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer study. 

But for men, there was a point at which the coronary benefits of alcohol declined, and risk began to rise again.  The rate of coronary heart disease for non-drinking women in the study was 56 per 100,000. For women listed as low drinkers, averaging less than 5 grams a day, it was 42. For women who were moderate drinkers (5 to 30 grams a day), it was 36; for high drinkers (30 to 90 grams a day) it was 12; and for heavy drinkers (more than 90 grams a day) it was 12. 

The rates for men were 398 per 100,000 for those who never drank, 318 for low drinkers, 255 for moderate drinkers, 278 for high drinkers and 334 for heavy drinkers, the researchers reported.

The report showing that the source of alcohol made no difference does help puncture one explanation for what has come to be called the “French paradox,” the low level of heart disease seen in that country despite consumption of what Americans would describe as an unhealthy, fat-rich diet. Some experts have attributed the paradox to the beneficial effects of red wine. 

A number of well-done studies have shown that people who drink have higher levels of HDL cholesterol.  HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind that prevents formation of artery-blocking plaque deposits. 

The American Heart Association recommendation is that “if you drink, do so in moderation.” That means one to two drinks a day for a man, one drink a day for a woman, with a drink defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.

Every 34 seconds an American will suffer a heart attack according to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance.  

SOURCES: Eric B. Rimm, Sc.D., associate professor, epidemiology and nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Kenneth Mukamal, M.D., internist, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, associate professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Nov. 19, 2009, Heart, online.

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