MONDAY, Oct. 23, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Research has shown that a drink or two per day can reduce the odds of heart attack in people at risk.
Now, a new study suggests this benefit also extends to healthier men who eat right and exercise.
The finding may help doctors feel a bit better about recommending moderate drinking to a wider range of patients, experts say.
"Most of the discussion about moderate drinking has tended to say that there are better ways to lower one's heart disease risk than drinking alcohol," said lead author Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal, an associate in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. "But what about men who are already doing those other things?" he said.
His team published their findings in the Oct. 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the study, Mukamal's team collected data on alcohol and heart attacks among nearly 9,000 healthy men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. During the study, the men completed questionnaires about their diet and alcohol use. All these men were nonsmokers, ate a healthful diet, exercised at least 30 minutes a day and were not overweight.
From 1986 to 2002, 106 of the men had heart attacks. Of these men, eight were among the 1,282 who drank about two drinks a day, nine were among the 714 who had over two drinks a day, and 28 were among the 1,889 men who did not drink at all.
The men who had two drinks a day had the lowest risk for heart attack, while those who didn't drink had the highest risk, the researchers found. Twenty-five percent of the heart attacks were among men who drank less than 5 grams of alcohol a day.
Given these findings, Mukamal thinks that guidelines about drinking and heart disease need to be rethought to take into account the benefit of alcohol on healthy men. He also believes the same benefit will be seen among healthy women.
Still, Mukamal is cautious about recommending that nondrinkers start drinking.
"I don't think people should begin drinking based on a finding like ours," he said. "Heart disease is only one of the diseases that people can develop. This study doesn't take into account cancer or any other illness," he said.
Two other experts say they have begun recommending moderate alcohol use to their patients, however.
"Physicians have been leery about suggesting to people that they drink," said Dr. Richard A. Stein, a clinical professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City. "What I ask patients is: 'Do you drink routinely?' If so, then I would continue to drink the equivalent of two drinks for a man and one drink for a smaller woman."
Stein does, however, routinely recommend a drink a day to people who have already had a heart attack. "Generally, I have begun to do that because the studies have been very powerful in suggesting that alcohol reduces risk of heart attack," he added.
"There now have been numerous convincing studies showing that alcohol consumption lowers the risk of having a heart attack," added Dr. Byron K. Lee, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Cardiology.
However, doctors are reluctant to recommend it to their patients, Lee said. "Nevertheless, patients should be informed of the facts. I tell all my patients that, in terms of preventing heart attacks, a moderate amount of alcohol is probably good," he said.
There's more on drinking and heart attack at the American Heart Association.