A study published in October's Archives of Internal Medicine found that healthy men who drank 15 to 29gm of alcohol per day had the lowest risk for heart attacks and those who did not drink at all had the highest. Another group of researchers presented papers on the health benefits of beer at a University of Maryland conference.
There is a unanimous hesitancy among researchers to recommend drinking to avoid certain diseases because of the fine line between moderation and binge drinking.
Medical practitioners have reason for concern in recommending drinking. According to the National Centre for Health Statistics, in 2003 the number of alcohol-induced deaths, excluding accidents and homicides was 20,687 and alcoholic liver disease resulted in another 12,360 deaths.
Yet, as part of a healthy lifestyle it appears moderate alcohol consumption pays off.
"Study after study has shown that moderate consumers of beer or other alcoholic beverages have much lower risks of coronary heart disease, as well as most other diseases of aging," said Dr. Curtis Ellison, from Boston University School of Medicine, where the Beer to Your Health! Conference convened. Funding for the conference and research was provided by the National Beer Wholesalers Association Education Foundation.
In the study, "Alcohol consumption and risk for coronary heart disease in men with healthy lifestyles", researchers assessed the connection between drinking alcohol and heart attacks in 8,867 healthy men between 1986 and 2002. The cohort included 51,529 dentists, pharmacists, veterinarians and other health care professionals aged 40 to 75.
All of the men in the study had healthy lifestyles. They did not smoke, had a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25, got at least 30 minutes of exercise per day and ate a healthy diet that included large amounts of fruits, vegetables, fish and polyunsaturated fats as well as low amounts of trans-fats and red meat.
The researchers noticed a significant drop in the risk of heart attacks associated with moderate consumption of alcohol when comparing those who drank five grams per day or more with those who drank less than five grams a day.
"We estimate that 25 percent of the incidence cases of myocardial infarction in this population were attributable to consuming less than five grams per day," wrote the authors.
Between 1986 and 2002, 106 men had heart attacks. This included eight of the 1,282 who drank 15 to 29.9 grams of alcohol per day (about two drinks), nine of the 714 who drank 30 grams or more per day, 34 of the 2,252 who drank .1 to 4.9 drinks per day and 28 of the 1,889 who did not drink at all. Those who drank 15 to 29 grams per day had the lowest risk for heart attack and those who did not drink at all had the highest.
"We are not telling people to drink more," said Ellison, "But encouraging more people who do not have a contraindication to alcohol to drink small amounts on a regular basis."