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Alcohol may benefit heart patients

Turning to drink can help men live longer after a first heart attack, a study has shown.

Two alcoholic drinks a day over a long period gave attack survivors a 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease than non-drinkers, researchers found. Their risk of death from any cause was reduced by 14%.

However the benefits were seen only with "moderate" drinking. Higher consumption wiped out the survival gains and increased the chances of dying so they matched those of non-drinkers.

The findings, published in the online edition of European Heart Journal, are broadly in line with evidence that controlled drinking levels can protect the heart and arteries. Researchers in the US monitored the progress of 1,818 men for up to 20 years after they had survived a first heart attack between 1986 and 2006.

The men were among participants in the US Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a major health and lifestyle investigation. Every four years they were asked questions about their diet and alcohol intake.

Those who consumed between 10 and 29.9 grams of alcohol a day - the equivalent of two 125 millilitre glasses of wine, two bottles or cans of beer, or a shot of spirits - were classified as "moderate" drinkers.

Study leader Dr Jennifer Pai, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, said: "Our findings clearly demonstrate that long-term moderate alcohol consumption among men who survived a heart attack was associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular mortality.

"We also found that among men who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol prior to a heart attack, those who continued to consume alcohol 'in moderation' afterwards also had better long-term prognosis."

June Davison, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: "We know that drinking a small amount of alcohol regularly can have a protective effect on your heart. But before you reach for that bottle, remember, too much alcohol can do more harm than good.

"Drinking too much can affect how well the heart pumps. It can also cause high blood pressure and weight gain. It is important to keep within the guidelines, which means drinking no more than 3-4 units per day for men and 2-3 units for women. If you have recently had a heart attack, ask your doctor for advice on when you can start drinking again."

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