If you’re going to go to John Harvard’s for a brew, researchers suggest that making the trip several times a week could be healthier than limiting yourself to a few times a month.
Drinking a glass of beer, wine or spirits at least three times per week can reduce men’s risk of heart attacks up to 35 percent, according to a study released last week by the Harvard School for Public Health. But drinking just several times a month proved less effective.
The research showed a link between drinking moderate amounts of alcohol regularly—and every day is best—and a lower risk of coronary heart disease. The connection held up regardless of the type or quantity of alcoholic beverage consumed and did not depend on other factors, such as whether or not drinks were consumed with meals.
“One of the more important things the study found is that the regularity of consumption is more important than the amount consumed,” said Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition and a senior author on the study.
The results from the study, conducted through Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, extend health benefits previously thought to come chiefly from red wine to all types of alcoholic beverages.
Research into alcohol’s ability to help prevent heart attacks began when scientists noticed that people in rural France have a very low incidence of heart disease despite fatty diets. As a result, researchers were able to link the moderate consumption of red wine in the region to the prevention of plaque build-up in the heart’s arteries.
Subsequent studies have confirmed those findings in other areas of the world and have also found health benefits in other types of alcohol.
Although the Harvard study further expands the possible health benefits of alcohol, Rimm said it does not necessarily mean people should start drinking every day. The study looked at 38,000 men over a 12-year period and found that those who began the study drinking several times a month and increased to several times a week did experience significantly lower risk of heart attack. But those men who started out teetotalers and then began drinking did not see the same benefits.
“Our results don’t suggest that people who don’t drink should start,” Rimm said. “However, it does suggest that people who drink several times a month would have substantial health benefits if they increased their consumption to three times a week.”
According to a press release from the School of Public Health, Kenneth Mukamal, assistant professor of medicine and the study’s lead author, said the importance of regular alcohol consumption may be due to the short-lived influence alcohol has on our bodies.
The study did not find any negative effects associated with alcohol consumption, although Rimm noted that, because the pool of research subjects was drawn exclusively from the health profession, it did not include a significant number of heavy drinkers.
“Within the range we were able to study it, there wasn’t harm associated with [drinking]. We didn’t have enough people in the heavy-drinking range to study its negative effects,” Rimm said. “It’s hard to be a successful dentist or health practitioner if you drink five or six cans of beer a day.”
In addition to studying the effects lifestyle can have on the risk of cardiovascular disease, Rimm studies the association between alcohol consumption and the risk of diabetes, blood pressure and mortality rates.
—Staff writer Christina M. Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.