Two studies covering more than 50 countries have concluded that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of heart attacks and a life-threatening flaw in the heart.
The findings mirror that of a British cardiologist who this week admitted to prescribing wine to his patients over the last 10 years, believing it helps to stave off heart attacks.
In both studies, published in June, low-to moderate drinking was defined as up to one drink for women and two drinks for men daily.
According to a report by Reuters, one study found evidence that low-to-moderate drinking could help stave off abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) – a “ballooning” of the main blood vessel which pumps blood from the heart and around the body – a condition which kills 11,000 Americans each year.
As part of the study, the drinking habits of 70,000 Scandinavian men and women over the age of 45 monitored from 1998 to 2011.
During that time 1020 men and 194 women were diagnosed with AAA.
Comparing their alcohol consumption, the study found drinking four to six glasses of alcohol per week resulted in a 20% lower risk of AAA for men and a 44% lower risk for women, compared to drinking less than one or two glasses per week.
The risk was found to decrease further up to 10 glasses per week for men and five for women.
The second study, which took data from 52 countries, compared 12,000 cases of first heart attacks with 15,500 people who had not had a heart attack.
Compared to not drinking at all, researchers found that moderate drinking resulted in a 13% lower risk of heart attack in almost all regions, except South Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Conversely, the consumption of six or more drinks in a 24 hour period increased the risk of heart attacks by 40%, especially for those aged over 65.
Drs. Stefan Kiechl and Johann Willeit, neurologists at Innsbruck Medical University in Austria, said in the journal Circulation, said: “There is now solid evidence that alcohol, when consumed on a regular basis and at low volumes (up to one drink for women and two drinks for men daily), confers protection against cardiovascular disease, whereas regular amounts of more than four to five drinks daily and heavy episodic drinking have (the) opposite effects.”
While regular drinking at low levels may be of benefit, the report noted more research was requires and it was not clear if all types of alcohol carried the same benefits, while emphasising that heavy drinking in all cases was not advised.
Lead author, Dr Darryl Leong of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Canada, told Reuters: “There is little doubt that heavy drinking should be avoided.”
“We do not know at an individual level if there is a ‘safe’ threshold of alcohol use; this will need further study.”