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Moderate drinking and reduced risk of heart disease

Although heavier drinkers are at increased risk for some heart diseases, moderate drinkers are at lower risk for the most common form of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD) than are either heavier drinkers or abstainers. This association has been demonstrated in large-scale epidemiological studies from many countries. Abstainers may share traits potentially related to CAD risk, such as psychological characteristics, dietary habits, and physical exercise patterns. However, evidence supports a direct protective effect of alcohol, even after data have been adjusted for the presence of these factors. The alcohol-CAD relationship is also independent of the hypothetically increased risk status among abstainers who stopped drinking for medical reasons. All alcoholic beverages protect against CAD, although some additional protection may be attributable to personal traits or drinking patterns among people who share some beverage preferences or to nonalcohol ingredients in specific beverages. Alcohol’s protective effect may result from favorable alterations in blood chemistry and the prevention of clot formation in arteries that deliver blood to the heart muscle. Because CAD accounts for a large proportion of total mortality, the risk of death from all causes is slightly lower among moderate drinkers than among abstainers, but heavier drinkers are at considerably higher total mortality risk.

Authors: Klatsky AL

Alcohol Res Health. 1999;23(1):15-23.

PubMed abstract

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