WEDNESDAY, March 28, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A drink or two per day may help lower a man's odds of death in the two decades following a heart attack, a new study suggests.
The research, which appears online March 28 in the European Heart Journal, included more than 1,800 American men who survived a first heart attack between 1986 and 2006 and were followed for up to 20 years. During that time, 468 of the men died.
Men who drank about two alcoholic drinks (between 10 and about 30 grams of alcohol) per day over a long period of time had a 14 percent lower risk of death from any cause, and a 42 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, than nondrinkers, the study found.
For reference, a four-ounce glass of wine contains 11 grams of alcohol, a bottle or can of beer 12.8 grams, and a shot of spirits 14 grams.
"Our findings clearly demonstrate that long-term moderate alcohol consumption among men who survived a heart attack was associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular mortality," study first author Dr Jennifer Pai, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a research associate at Harvard School of Public Health, said in a journal news release.
"We also found that among men who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol prior to a heart attack, those who continued to consume alcohol 'in moderation' afterwards also had better long-term prognosis," she added.
"Our study was only among men, so we cannot extrapolate to women," Pai noted. "However, in all other cases of alcohol and chronic disease, associations are similar except at lower quantities for women. Thus, an association is likely to be observed at 5-14.9 grams per day, or up to a drink a day for women."
One expert said the study did have its flaws, however.
"Studies such as this look for associations with outcomes," noted Dr. Stephen Green, chief of cardiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. "The public should realize that an association is not a cause. In other words, this study demonstrates an association, but does not prove that moderate consumption of alcohol is 'good' for people after [heart attack]."
Green also stressed that "the majority of patients maintained the same amount of alcohol consumption before and after their first heart attack. This study does not mean that one should change the amount of alcohol consumed. For instance, if a patient did not consume alcohol prior to a heart attack, this study does not mean that they should start drinking."
Another expert offered up other caveats.
"Though this study looked at a large number of people, they were all male health care professionals who, unlike the general population, tend to take better care of themselves," noted Dr. Kenneth Ong, a cardiologist at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.
"The takeaway here is that moderate drinking does not seem to cause harm and may possibly be beneficial to the heart," he added, but that's no reason to drink excessively. "High alcohol consumption is definitely shown to cause a significant number of health complications," Ong said. "If you plan to add moderate drinking to your health regimen, you should check with your health care provider first."
The American Heart Association has more about alcohol and heart disease.