Daily Drinking Cuts Heart Disease Risk for Men

Benefit of moderate drinking doesn't extend to women, study suggests

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By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Having a drink or two each day appears to be better for the heart than having a drink just now and then, at least for middle-aged men, a Danish study finds.

Men who drank moderately each day had a 41 percent lower risk of heart disease than abstainers, while the risk was only 7 percent lower for those who drank on no more than one day a week, the researchers found. The team found no such benefit to daily drinking for women, however.

"This is one more study suggesting that a modest to moderate amount of alcohol in the world of heart disease is reasonably healthy," said Dr. Richard A. Stein, clinical professor of medicine at Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Stein was not involved in the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Center for Alcohol Research, part of the National Institute for Public Health in Copenhagen. The findings are published in the May 27 issue of the British Medical Journal.

The study followed over 22,400 women and more than 25,000 men ages 50 to 65 for nearly six years. The results were adjusted for known cardiac risk factors such as age, smoking, education, physical activity and diet.

Researchers did note a considerable difference in benefit between the sexes. Compared to abstainers, women who drank once a week had a slightly greater reduction in cardiovascular risk (36 percent) than women who drank every day (35 percent).

But there was also a difference between the genders in the average amount of alcohol consumed, with men averaging 11.3 drinks a week to women's weekly average of 5.5 drinks.

The researchers stressed that any potential benefit from daily drinking would be overwhelmed by the ill effects of heavy drinking -- more than a drink or two per day.

Annie Britton, a senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health at University College of London who wrote an accompanying editorial, expressed worry that the study might lead people to believe they "can [healthily] drink as much as you want."

And she noted that the benefit was only seen in a select group. "If drinking every day gives a benefit, that is restricted to middle-aged men," Britton said. In addition, not everyone in the study answered the questions about drinking, and the low response rate meant that "it might not be able to capture the full picture," missing really heavy drinkers, Britton said.

The study is "a very good piece of work," she said, but added that "it is too early to find if the study results will hold in other populations."

Stein said the Danish report will not affect current AHA recommendations on drinking.

For those who choose to drink, the heart association recommends no more than one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine or one ounce of 100-proof whiskey.

The Danish results suggest "that if you are a man, you should get together with your friends every day and have a drink, and if you're a woman you should get together for a drink once a week and call it quits," Stein said.

More information

For more on the pros and cons of drinking, head to the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Annie Britton, Ph.D, senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health, University College of London, England; Richard A. Stein, clinical professor of medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York; May 27, 2006, British Medical Journal

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