More Booze, Fewer Heart Attacks?
Study Finds Protection Increases With Drinking Frequency
Jan. 8, 2003 -- It seems like a barfly's dream come true: Scientific evidence -- from Harvard Medical School, no less -- suggests that the more often men drink, the less likely they are to have heart attacks. After studying alcohol consumption patterns of more than 38,000 health professionals over 12 years, researchers say the risk of America's top killer, heart disease, appears to steadily decrease as imbibing quantity and frequency increases.
In the study, men who drank alcohol three to four times or more per week were about 30-40% less likely to have a heart attack during the 12-year period, compared with men who drank less than once a week.
The study also found that the type of alcohol beverage didn't matter -- beer, wine, or liquor -- they all provided some protection against heart disease, although the strongest association for the reduced risk was with beer and liquor. These findings are published in the Jan. 9 issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine.
Does this mean that more booze is better?
While the researchers find that two drinks seem better than one, and drinking more frequently may enhance protection more than just an occasional indulgence, they stress moderation -- albeit, perhaps more regularly than what some previously believed.
"The amount of alcohol consumed by the men in our study was well within the recommended range of no more than two drinks a day. Drinking heavier amounts does not provide additional benefits in preventing heart attacks and it poses other health hazards," says lead researcher Kenneth Mukamal, MD, MPH.
"And while our study showed a greater benefit from drinking three or four times a week compared [with] once or twice a week or not at all, there really is no additional benefit in preventing heart attack from drinking every day. Once you go beyond those three or four nights a week, you don't get any additional bang for your buck."
Researchers have shown that different drinking patterns can modify "good" HDL cholesterol, and there is evidence it may also improve blood sugar sensitivity, possibly reducing the risk of diabetes. Yet heavier amounts -- beyond the recommended two glasses per sitting -- can raise blood pressure and boost the risk of diabetes, as well as damage the liver, significantly raise risk of traffic and other accidents, and add excess pounds.
"Alcohol does raise HDL cholesterol and may have other benefits, but it also does some bad things, such as have an anti-clotting effect on blood. Studies show that people who drink to excess, even if only one night a week, face a higher death rate," says Margo Denke, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, another researcher who has documented health benefits of alcohol. "My advice is not for people to take up alcohol or see this as a license to drink more in order to lower their risk of heart attack. It's to not eat as much and to exercise more."