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Alcohol's Health Benefits Doubted

Any heart gains from drinking alcohol in moderation are likely outweighed by the harm, say researchers.

The findings in The Lancet suggest that drinking a glass or two of wine a day may not be such a good idea.

Although past research suggests some heart benefits, the New Zealand team says the studies were flawed.

Indeed, there is more evidence that heavier drinking provides the most heart protection - alcoholics have relatively 'clean' arteries - they say.

However, in this instance the other health risks definitely outweigh the benefits. Lead researcher Dr Rod Jackson, from the University of Auckland, and his team said: "Any coronary protection from light to moderate drinking will be very small and unlikely to outweigh the harms.

"While moderate to heavy drinking is probably coronary-protective, any benefit will be overwhelmed by the known harms.

"If so, the public health message is clear. Do not assume there is a window in which the health benefits of alcohol are greater than the harms - there is probably no free lunch."

Various studies published in the 1970s and 1980s suggested alcohol, in moderation, could be good for the heart.

'Festive tipple is OK'

These early observations were confirmed by pooling together of findings from different studies, which suggested a 20% to 25% reduction in heart disease risk linked to light drinking.

But Dr Jackson's team said that the way the studies were carried out did not allow the researchers to be able to say with certainty that the findings could not due to other factors rather than solely the amount of alcohol consumed.

Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation said: "This suggests that light to moderate alcohol consumption may only give a small amount of protection against coronary heart disease, while the benefits of moderate to heavy drinking are likely to be outweighed by the overall harm that alcohol can also cause.

"The good news is that people can still enjoy alcohol in moderation, especially during the festive period. There is no evidence to suggest that light to moderate alcohol consumption will actually harm the heart. However over indulging can have an adverse effect on your health.

"We should not encourage people to start drinking specifically to protect their heart, as there are much safer options.

"Our advice remains the same - the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to quit smoking if you smoke, increase levels of physical activity and eat a healthy balanced diet."

Reference Source 108
December 7, 2005

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