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Studies: Moderate Drinking Can Benefit Weakened and Older People

April 23, 2001|Benedict Carey

For all the evidence that a drink or two a day reduces heart disease risk in middle-aged adults, doctors know little about how such moderate drinking affects more fragile constitutions--of seniors, for example, or of people who've survived a heart attack.

But two studies in last week's Journal of the American Medical Assn. clarify the picture, and it's news that's worthy of a toast.

In one study, Boston area doctors followed about 2,000 heart attack survivors for five years and found that, compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers (seven or more drinks a week) were about 30% less likely to die during that period. In the other, researchers tracked about 2,200 Connecticut men and women 65 and older and found that those who had at least 1 1/2 drinks a day were 20% to 50% less likely to suffer heart failure, compared to nondrinkers.

It made no difference whether the patients drank mainly wine, beer or spirits.

Generally speaking, doctors don't advise people to start drinking, because of the possible effects on such things as breast and colon cancer, not to mention the possibility of alcohol abuse. But numerous studies now demonstrate that alcohol improves cholesterol readings and can make blood less likely to clot. The new JAMA studies suggest that these effects occur even in high-risk populations, doctors say.

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