If you start drinking moderate amounts of alcohol in middle age, particularly wine, you can lower your risk of heart attack by up to 68 percent, compared with nondrinkers, a new study finds.
While previous research had suggested that moderate alcohol consumption was good for the heart, it hadn`t been clear whether starting drinking later in life confers a benefit.
"Among middle-aged people who began to drink alcohol in the middle age, we found considerable cardiovascular benefit," said lead researcher Dr. Dana E. King, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina`s Department of Family Medicine.
Current American Heart Association guidelines suggest that moderate drinking may be good for you, King noted. "But if you don`t currently drink, you shouldn`t start, because of the possible negative consequences of alcohol," he said, summarizing the guidelines.
But this new study will challenge that policy, King said.
The findings are published in the March issue of The American Journal of Medicine.
For the new research, King and his colleagues collected data on 7,697 people taking part in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study. All were between 45 and 64 years old and nondrinkers at the start of the trial.
During the study, 6 percent of the participants began moderate drinking, which was defined as one drink a day or less for women and two drinks a day or less for men.
After four years, those men and women who became moderate drinkers reduced their risk of developing cardiovascular disease or having a heart attack by 38 percent, compared with the nondrinkers.
However, the type of alcohol did matter, King said. "Wine-only drinkers had 68 percent fewer cardiovascular events, whereas the drinkers of beer, liquor and mixed drinks had only a 21 percent benefit, and that was not (statistically) significant," he said.
"A sip of wine with dinner is part of a healthy lifestyle, even if you haven`t been doing it previously," he added.
King cautioned that starting to drink isn`t a wise choice for everyone.