While we ve long advised that moderate alcohol consumption provides a protective benefit against heart disease, a recent study has found that having one to two drinks daily may also decrease mortality rates among heart attack survivors.
For their study, published in the European Heart Journal, researchers from Brigham and Women s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public health tracked over 1,800 male heart attack survivors and analyzed their alcohol consumption through detailed dietary questionnaires every four years, for up to 20 years. Compared to teetotalers, men who drank one or two servings of alcohol daily beer, wine, or liquor had a 34 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality and were 42 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
Drinking slightly less than one drink daily also resulted in beneficial effects, albeit somewhat less so, with a 22 percent lower risk of death. The researchers controlled for smoking, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, aspirin use, and other factors as well.
It is, however, important to note that, although drinking moderately can be healthy, the benefit disappears with too much alcohol consumption which was defined in this study as three or more drinks per day. Lead author Dr. Jennifer K. Pai concludes: We re not telling people to drink if they don t already, but we can say that continuing to drink moderate amounts after a heart attack seems to be beneficial. The authors believe this is the first study to demonstrate heart protection in patients who have already had a heart attack; evidence showing that moderate drinking confers a reduced risk prior to any cardiovascular event is already fairly strong.
Despite being pleased with the study results, ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is disappointed that Dr. Pai stopped short of advising people to drink moderately as a means of reducing the risk of heart attack. Why not tell people to drink alcohol carefully? she asks. Her cautionary statements, which avoid advising patients to drink in moderation as a protective measure, are based on moralistic, not scientific, grounds, she says. If it were anything but alcohol, doctors would be recommending it point blank.