50+ health * Healthy living

Drinking alcohol "in moderation" can protect against heart disease

Drinking alcohol  in moderation  can protect against heart disease Could form basis for new health advice

Binge drinking and over-consumption of alcohol in general is considered to be a major threat to the health of the nation, but a new study claims that moderate alcohol consumption could help protect against heart disease.

And another study by the same Canadian researchers suggests that alcohol can increase the level of so-called 'good' cholesterol in the blood.

In the first study, published online in the British Medical Journal, scientists reviewed data from 84 other studies. They concluded that the evidence shows that taking one alcoholic drink per day can reduce heart disease cases by between 14% and 25%, compared to people who do not drink at all.

But experts warned that this is no justification for people to start to (or continue to) drink alcohol. Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This analysis of previous studies supports what we already know about moderate drinking reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease."

“However, drinking more than sensible amounts of alcohol does not offer any protection and can cause high blood pressure, stroke, some cancers and damage to our heart."

She called for people to consider alternative strategies for protecting their health: "If you don’t drink, this is not a reason to start. Similar results can be achieved by being physically active and eating a balanced and healthy diet."

Of course, the risk of heart disease increases as the level of drinking increases beyond this point.

In the second study by the same group, the data reviewed suggests that drinking up to around 2 units per day of alcohol can increase the levels of two forms of cholesterol (adiponectin and apolipoprotein), which have been linked to good heart health.

Study author Professor William Ghali said that these results may result in changes to the public health message, but that this could result in confusion: "There's no doubt a public health campaign (on drinking moderate amounts of alcohol) would be controversial. We need to ponder the message of how a doctor talks to a patient and how the government talks to the people."

This article was published on Wed 23 February 2011

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