Can moderate drinking cut heart disease death risk?

People who drink alcohol have a lower risk of death from heart disease than those who abstain from alcohol, according to newspaper reports.

Moderate drinkers, who drank 14 units a week or less, were found to be 30 per cent less likely to develop heart disease compared with teetotallers.

People who drank moderately and exercised regularly halved their risk of death from heart disease compared with those who did neither, say the papers.

What is the research?
The reports are based on Danish research that looked at the combined influence of physical activity and weekly alcohol intake on fatal IHD in 11,914 men and women, aged 20 or older, who had no pre-existing IHD.

Each participant was asked to complete a health questionnaire that included questions about levels of physical activity, weekly alcohol intake and other factors that could influence the study such as smoking status.

The participants were then classified according to their reported total weekly intake of alcohol. Those who drank one to 14 units a week were considered moderate drinkers, while those that drank 15 or more units were classed as heavy drinkers.

A total of 3,649 participants said that they did not drink any alcohol at all.

After a 20-year follow-up, the researchers in the study identified 1,242 participants who had died from IHD.

For both men and women, being physically active was associated with a 32 per cent lower risk of fatal IHD.

Also those who were moderate drinkers were 30 per cent less likely to develop IHD than those who did not drink alcohol at all.

Those who drank moderately and exercised for four hours or more a week reduced their risk of a fatal IHD by 49 per cent, compared with those who did not exercise or drink alcohol.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr Jane Perdersen, from the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen, said: 'Neither physical activity alone nor alcohol intake can completely reverse the increased risk associated with alcohol abstention and lack of physical activity.

'Thus, both moderate to high levels of physical activity and a moderate alcohol intake are important for lowering the risk of fatal IHD.'

Professor Morten Gronbaek, from the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen, who was also involved in the study, added that the protective effect of alcohol on reducing IHD risk was lost on heavy drinkers.

Researchers suggest that moderate alcohol intake and exercise may have a 'beneficial effect on lipoprotein metabolism, inflammatory markers and insulin resistance'.

What do other researchers say?
Ellen Mason, a cardiac expert at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'The combination of moderate drinking and physical activity appears to be a winning one in reducing the risk of fatal heart disease.

'It is better to increase levels of physical activity rather then encourage drinking, as alcohol is a depressant, whereas exercise releases mood-enhancing hormones and reduces IHD risk.'

Informing patients

  • Moderate drinking could cut a person's risk of death from heart disease by 30 per cent.
  • A combination of exercise and moderate drinking halved the risk of death from heart disease.
  • Drinking more than 15 units per week does not cut heart disease risk.

Eur Heart J Online 2008

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