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Light Drinking Cuts Risk for Death, Heart Attack

A drink a day may bring benefits, but experts aren't sure why

MONDAY, July 24, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Another study adds to the growing evidence that a drink each day helps lower heart risks and extend life span.

Moreover, the effect appears to be due to something other than alcohol's anti-inflammatory effects, the Florida researchers found. Prior studies have found that light to moderate drinking reduces blood levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-6.

"Light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease in older subjects," concluded lead author Dr. Cinzia Maraldi, of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

As reported in the July 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, Maraldi's team collected data on nearly 2,500 adults without heart disease, aged 70 to 79. Half of this group never drank or only drank occasionally. During an average 5.6 years of follow-up, 397 of the participants died, and 383 suffered some kind of cardiac event, the researchers reported.

The researchers found that those who drank lightly to moderately -- one to seven drinks per week -- had a 27.4 percent lower risk of death and close to a 29 percent lower risk for cardiac events, compared with the never or occasional drinkers.

That difference held even after the researchers controlled for blood markers of inflammation. "The anti-inflammatory effect doesn't seem to explain these benefits," Maraldi said.

But the researchers stressed that the benefit was only seen in light-to-moderate drinkers. Heavy drinkers were actually more likely to die or experience a dangerous cardiac event than teetotalers or occasional drinkers, they noted.

Maraldi believes more research is needed into just how light drinking eases heart risk. Alcohol may act on specific cells or molecules to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, or it may interact with genetic factors, the researchers speculated.

One expert thinks that the protective effect of alcohol may be a combination of factors including anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory (artery-opening) effects.

"I don't think they have proven that it is not an anti-inflammatory effect, that's pretty hard to know," said Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine.

Siegel thinks that whether alcohol is protective or not, it does have toxic effects on the body.

"There is less cardiac death at low-to-moderate drinking, and there is more longevity," Siegel said. "The problem with alcohol is, it's toxic to the stomach, it's toxic to the liver, and it's toxic to the brain. I am cautious about recommending alcohol, because of its toxic effects," he said.

"If we didn't have alcohol in the world, our health would be better, not worse," Siegel said. "Overall, alcohol is very bad for us."

More information

There's more on drinking and the heart at the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Cinzia Maraldi, M.D., Institute on Aging, University of Florida, Gainesville; Marc Siegel, M.D., associate professor, medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; July 24, 2006, Archives of Internal Medicine
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