Moderate drinking may be beneficial to your heart.
March 6, 2000 (Petaluma, Calif.) -- In 1995, federal health officials
created an uproar by issuing dietary guidelines stating that alcohol can be
good for the heart. The revised guidelines, due out soon, are expected to go
even further -- spelling out exactly who might benefit from a drink or more a
Some experts have even suggested that a glass of wine be pictured in the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's official food pyramid -- following the example
of the Mediterranean food pyramid, whose accompanying guidelines recommend a
daily glass of wine for women and up to two glasses for men. (The Mediterranean
pyramid is an alternative model conceived by scientists from the World Health
Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health.) "It's clear that
there are important health benefits associated with moderate drinking,"
says Curt Ellison, M.D., a professor of medicine at Boston University School of
Medicine and a leading expert on alcohol and heart disease.
Editor's Note: Food Pyramid Replaced
In June 2011, the USDA replaced the food pyramid with a new plate icon.
But what constitutes "moderate"? Researchers don't yet agree on how
much wine consumption is safe. And aside from moral or religious qualms -- this
is the nation that once passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting alcohol,
after all -- recommending regular drinking remains controversial for medical
reasons, says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., Professor of Food Sciences at New
Even if a little drinking can promote health, the fact remains that too much
drinking can be dangerous, quickly erasing any potential benefits. And the
imprecise line between moderation and excess makes some experts reluctant to
officially sanction any alcohol at all. Once a positive message about alcohol
is out of the bottle, so to speak, the question becomes: Do the benefits really
outweigh the risks?
The Arguments for Alcohol
Research does point to some striking evidence on the plus side. More than 50
studies have shown that moderate drinkers live longer than teetotalers and are
less likely to have heart disease. In one of the most recent reviews, published
in the British Medical Journal in December 1999, Harvard researchers
looked at 42 studies and concluded that regularly consuming 30 grams of alcohol
-- the equivalent of about three drinks a day -- increased "good" HDL
cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins) and reduced factors in the blood that
lead to clotting. That translates to a whopping 24.7 % reduction in
heart-disease risk, the researchers found.
The French, the world's greatest wine connoisseurs, presented even better
news in a 1998 issue of the journal Epidemiology: In a five-year study
in France, people who drank two to five glasses of wine a day had up to 31%
less risk of death from any cause than nondrinkers.
The benefits may go beyond the heart. In a study of 3,072 men and women
published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society in January
1998, researchers at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., found that
moderate wine drinkers are 14% less likely than nondrinkers to develop
age-related macular degeneration, a disease of the retina that can cause
Other research suggests that a daily glass of wine or beer with a meal may
also help lower risk for diabetes. In a six-year Harvard study of more than
41,000 health professionals, the moderate drinkers were almost half as likely
to develop the disease as nondrinkers, according to a March 1995 report in the
British Medical Journal. Another study published in the July 21, 1999
issue of JAMA found that Type 2 diabetics get the same protection as
other people from moderate drinking.