Enjoy an evening cocktail or glass of organic wine with dinner?

Light to moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages may protect your heart and extend your life, according to the latest research from the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Older adults who consume one to seven alcoholic beverages a week may live longer and have a reduced risk for cardiac events than those who do not drink, according to Dr. Cinzia Maraldi and her colleagues, whose study was published in the July 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

First, the caveat: Alcohol may worsen some chronic diseases, and the overall effect of drinking on survival is not clear. But several studies have shown that alcohol may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and heart failure and contribute to a lower death rate. Light to moderate alcohol intake has been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, two compounds that circulate in the blood due to inflammation. Researchers have therefore suspected that the mechanism linking alcohol to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease may be related to inflammation.

The researchers studied almost 2,500 older adults without heart disease, grouping them by the number of alcoholic beverages they consumed in a typical week over the last year. Those who drank lightly to moderately (one to seven drinks a week) had a 26% lower risk of death overall and an almost 30% lower risk of cardiac incidents than those who never or seldom drank alcoholic beverages. In contrast, heavy drinkers (more than seven drinks per week) were more likely to die or experience a cardiac event than those who never or seldom drank alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol’s anti-inflammatory properties alone do not explain the reduced risk of death or cardiovascular disease associated with light to moderate drinking, the authors note. Alcohol may have cellular or molecular effects that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, or it may interact with genetic factors to produce a protective effect. In addition, the health effects of alcohol may not be the same for everyone, the authors caution.

“The net benefit of light to moderate alcohol consumption may vary as a function of sex, race and background cardiovascular risk,” they conclude. “From this point of view, recommendations on alcohol consumption should be based, as any medical advice, on a careful evaluation of an individual’s risks and benefits, in the context of adequate treatment and control of established cardiovascular risk factors.”