Moderation is the Key

Dozens of studies show that moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of heart attack for people in middle age by roughly 30 percent to 50 percent. This result seems to hold up even when you consider other factors that may play a role, such as age and tobacco use. Apparently alcohol offers its greatest protection to men older than age 50, especially those who smoke or did smoke.

Moderate alcohol consumption would be an average of one to two of the following per day for men and one per day for women:

  • a 12 oz. Beer
  • 4 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits

In some studies alcohol was shown to:

  • Lower your risk of ischemic stroke. About 80 percent of strokes are ischemic, caused by a buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits or plaques in your arteries. (Aspirin may help reduce blood clotting in a similar way.)
  • Reduce blockages in your leg arteries. Obstructions in your leg arteries can cause claudication, a symptom of peripheral vascular disease. You may experience cramping, aching, numbness, fatigue or heaviness in the muscles downstream from the blockage after walking a certain distance, especially downhill.
  • Increased anti-oxidants in blood. Antioxidants can also be obtained from many fruits and vegetables, including red grape juice.
  • The best-known effect of alcohol is an increase in HDL cholesterol. However, regular physical activity and weight loss are other effective ways to raise HDL cholesterol.

However, drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood and may bring other health dangers, such as alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, etc. Given these and other risks, the American Heart Association cautions people against increasing their alcohol intake or starting to drink if they don't already do so. Other serious problems include cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Red Wine and Heart Disease

Some studies suggest that wine's health benefits are superior to beer and liquor because of certain compounds in wine, such as resveratrol. Other studies document the same cardiovascular benefits with all three. Over the past several decades, many studies have been published in science journals about how drinking alcohol may help reduce mortality due to heart disease. Some researchers have suggested that the benefit may be due to wine, especially red wine. Others are examining the potential benefits of components in red wine such as flavonoids (FLAV'oh-noidz) and other antioxidants (an"tih-OK'sih-dants) in reducing heart disease risk. Some of these components may be found in other foods such as grapes or red grape juice. Another area of controversy is that the linkage reported in many of these studies may be due to other lifestyle factors rather than alcohol. Such factors may include increased physical activity and a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

Don't feel pressured to drink. And don't drink every day. Few, if any, medical experts advise nondrinkers to start drinking.

Don't drink alcohol at all if you have:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Liver disease
  • Ulcers
  • Severe acid reflux
  • Sleep apnea