Moderate drinking may reduce some heart attack risks


October 01, 1991|By Dr. Simeon Margolis

Q: My wife is constantly nagging me about my drinking because of all the bad effects of alcohol. But isn't it true that alcohol prevents heart attacks?

A: Over the years, a number of studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake does tend to lower the risk of a heart attack. The latest word on this subject was reported in an August issue of the British medical journal Lancet, which described the results of an investigation of the effects of alcohol intake on coronary artery disease in about 45,000 male health professionals. These men completed a questionnaire detailing their medical history, heart disease risk factors, dietary habits, and alcohol consumption and the number of coronary events over the next two years. They found that the frequency of these events was highest in those who consumed alcoholic drinks never or less than once a month.

Coronary events occurred less often in those whose daily alcohol intake averaged about 15 grams (roughly equivalent to four ounces of wine, a measure of spirits, or a glass, can or bottle of beer). Those who consumed two to three times as much alcohol had even fewer coronary events. The relative risk of a coronary event was less in those who drank alcohol on three to four days per week compared with men who drank less than once a week.

Many studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption increases the level of high-density lipoprotein, and high levels of HDL are clearly associated with a lower incidence of coronary disease.

Although evidence for the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption against heart attacks seems quite firm, it is critical to emphasize the even greater risks of excessive alcohol intake or even moderate intake at the wrong time, such as before driving a car.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and associate dean for faculty affairs at the school.

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