If you ushered in the new millennium with a bit of alcohol, research suggests you may have done your heart some good. Numerous scientific studies indicate that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, in middle-aged and older people.
In the January issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School further confirm the relationship between alcohol consumption and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, or CVD, and from all causes, as well.
Nearly 90,000 male physicians enrolled in the Physicians’ Health Study were subjects of the report. Initially, they were 40 to 84 years old, and were free of stroke, heart attack, cancer and liver disease. The subjects’ alcohol consumption was estimated from questionnaires they completed at the beginning of the study, and their health status was followed for 5.5 years. No attempt was made to determine whether the subjects consumed wine, beer or distilled spirits.
Compared with men who reported drinking alcoholic beverages never or rarely, those who consumed up to 14 drinks per week had an 18 percent to 26 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. These differences in risk of death were statistically significant. Most of this decreased mortality was due to a decreased risk of death from CVD — there was a significant 32 percent to 47 percent reduction in heart attacks.
Among the men who were light-to-moderate drinkers, the researchers found no association with death from the more common types of cancer, such as lung, colon or prostate cancer, or lymphoma or leukemia.
In their discussion of the results, researchers note that since their subjects were men, these results cannot be directly generalized to women. They added, however, that other large investigations have “found a similar … relationship between light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and mortality among women.”
Finally, the investigators emphasized that since excessive alcohol use is associated with increased risk of traumatic death and since the relationship of alcohol with various diseases is complex, alcohol consumption should not be considered a primary strategy to prevent disease. And, of course, there are certain populations — such as alcoholics or those with liver disease or ulcers — who should never drink. However, for healthy, middle-aged men, light-to-moderate drinking would seem a reasonable and not unhealthy way to celebrate the new millennium.
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