Raise Your Glass for Your Heart

All types of alcohol appear to reduce heart attack risk in men

A man enjoys a glass of heart-friendly white wine with his partner in an outdoor coastal setting.

by Dr. Jerry Glassman, Cardiologist

An afternoon cocktail may have more benefits than simply helping you unwind at the end of a busy day.

A new study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that regular consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol helped reduce the risk of heart attack in men. While similar benefits have been revealed in earlier studies of red wine drinkers, this is the first study to show the benefit extends to other types of alcohol — beer, white wine and liquor.

Certainly, moderation is the key word here. As any physician will tell you, the health risks associated with alcohol abuse are seemingly endless and those in alcoholism recovery should continue to abstain from drinking. However, for those who consume one or two drinks per day, a little moderation can go a long way toward a long and healthy life.

The study, published Jan. 9, studied 38,077 men — 40 to 75 years of age — who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer and followed them for 12 years between 1986 and 1998. The men answered questionnaires about their intake of wine, beer and liquor over that time and researchers documented cases of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease among the subjects during that time.

They found that men who consumed alcohol between three and seven times a week had decreased heart attack risk, while those who consumed alcohol less than once per week had a higher chance of experiencing a heart attack. No single type of beverage offered additional benefits, the researchers found. Nor did it matter if the alcohol was consumed with meals or not.

With alcohol, moderation is key to health benefits

The conclusion: Men who drink alcohol at least three to four times a week (no more than one or two drinks per day) experienced a decreased chance of suffering a heart attack. This included men who increased their consumption by a moderate amount during the follow-up period as compared to previous drinking habits before the study period.

Binge drinking — that is, consuming high amounts of alcohol over short periods of time and then not drinking for several days — actually increased heart attack risk. Clearly, according the research, the benefit is in moderate drinking.

Take a look at your lifestyle and ask your family physician or cardiologist about steps you can take to live a heart-healthy life. Consider your diet. Are you avoiding high-fat and high-cholesterol foods? Are you on a regular exercise routine? Even a short walk daily can offer tremendous benefits. Do you smoke? If so, what steps are you taking to quit? All of these factors can contribute to a healthy heart. And if you are living a heart-healthy life, then you certainly have something to toast. Here’s to your heart!

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Jerry Glassman, MD, cardiologist and medical director of the Heart Care Center at Scripps Mercy Hospital.