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Cheers to your heart health - in moderation

In recent years, there have been scores of separate studies suggesting that drinking alcohol is good for your heart.

Now, researchers at the University of Calgary say they have completed the most comprehensive review of the scientific literature to date.

Overall, they reviewed more than 140 previous studies. From their meta-analysis, they concluded that people who drink in moderation are 14 to 25 per cent less likely to develop heart disease compared to those who never touch a drop.

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The medical evidence also indicates alcohol, in moderation, protects the cardiovascular system by significantly increasing the levels of so-called "good" cholesterol which helps reduce fatty deposits in the blood vessels.

Moderate consumption was defined as up to one drink or 15 grams of alcohol per day for women and up to two drinks or 30 grams of alcohol per day for men. The type of alcohol - wine, beer or spirits - doesn't matter.

The findings are contained in two papers published in the British Medical Journal.

With this work complete, "we should move toward developing some guideline recommendations for both patients and the general public [so they are]at least informed of the potential benefits," William Ghali, the senior author of both papers, said in an e-mail.

Still, Dr.Ghali wants to be sure that a positive message doesn't fuel alcohol abuse. "We know that there is a slippery slope - excess alcohol intake can lead to social problems, injury, liver disease and other conditions," he said. "Any implementation of new guidelines or recommendations needs to be tested in studies of impact."

Despite the risks, he thinks the medical community shouldn't lose sight of the fact "the analysis looking at overall mortality did indeed suggest that on the balance, moderate drinking was more beneficial than it is harmful."

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