Drinking alcohol in moderation is beneficial to the heart, a new study has revealed.
Those who drink wine, spirits or beer regularly are less prone to heart failure and heart attacks than people who rarely or never drink.
Three to five drinks a week are part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, scientists concluded.
Drinking a little alcohol every day can be part of a healthy lifestyle, Imre Janszky, a professor of social medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said.
When consumed in moderation, alcohol does more good than harm, he added.
And he said, it doesn’t matter whether a person drinks wine, liquor or beer.
It’s primarily the alcohol that leads to more good cholesterol, among other things,’ he said.
But alcohol can also cause higher blood pressure, so it’s best to drink moderate amounts relatively often.’
With colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Professor Janszky and his team have published two studies looking at the link between alcohol and heart health.
The most recent focuses on heart failure, while another, published in September, looks at acute myocardial infarction.
In both cases, research shows people who regularly drink alcohol have better cardiovascular health than those who consume little or no alcohol.
The studies showed that those who drank three to five drinks each week were 33 per cent less prone to heart failure than those who abstained, or drank infrequently.
In the case of heart attacks, the risk was reduced by 28 per cent with each additional one-drink increment.
Researchers said the findings were no surprise.
There is a general consensus among the scientific community that three to five drinks a week can be good for the heart.
The relationship between alcohol and heart health has been studied in many countries, including the USA and southern European nations,’ Professor Janszky said.
The conclusions have been the same, but the drinking patterns in these countries are very different than in Norway.
In countries like France and Italy, very few people don’t drink.
It raises the question as to whether earlier findings can be fully trusted, if other factors related to non-drinkers might have influenced research results.
It may be that these are people who previously had alcohol problems, and who have stopped drinking completely.’
For this reason, the researchers wanted to examine the theory within a Norwegian population where a significant population drinks rarely or not at all.
In the study looking at myocardial infarction, 41 per cent of participants reported that they did not drink at all, or that they consumed less than half an alcoholic beverage each week.
Both studies are based on the longitudinal HUNT 2 Nord-Tr?ndelag Health Study conducted between 1995 and 1997.
The study which examined the relationship between heart failure and alcohol followed 60,665 people enrolled on the HUNT study.
At the time, between 1995 and 1997, all participants had no incidence of heart failure.
Of those, 1,588 developed heart failure during the period of the study, which ended in 2008.
The risk was highest for those who rarely or never drank alcohol, and for those who had an alcohol problem.
The more often participants consumed alcohol within normal amounts, the lower their risk of heart failure turned out to be. researchers noted.
Those who drank five or more times a month had a 21 per cent lower risk compared to non-drinkers and those who drank little, while those who drank between one and five times a month had a two per cent lower risk.
Professor Janszky said: ’I’m not encouraging people to drink alcohol all the time.
We’ve only been studying the heart, and it’s important to emphasize that a little alcohol every day can be healthy for the heart.
But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to drink alcohol every day to have a healthy heart.’
In the heart attack study, 58,827 participants were categorized by how much and how often they drank.
Of the study participants, 2,966 experienced an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) between 1995 and the end of 2008.
The adjusted analyses showed that each additional one-drink increment decreased the risk of AMI by 28 per cent.
The researchers stressed that few participants in the study drank particularly much, so they cannot conclude that high alcohol intake protects against heart attack or heart failure.
They also encourage looking at the findings in a larger context, since the risk of a number of other diseases and social problems can increase as a result of higher alcohol consumption.
For example, the researchers observed that the risk of dying from various types of cardiovascular disease increased with about five drinks a week and up, while those who drank more moderate amounts had the lowest risk.
High alcohol consumption was also strongly associated with an increased risk of death from liver disease.
The study looking at heart failure was published in the Journal of Cardiology, while the research focusing on actue myocardial infarction was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.