Drinking up to half a glass of wine a day may boost life expectancy by five years, at least in men, it was claimed today.
Dutch researchers studied a total of 1,373 randomly selected men whose cardiovascular health and life expectancy at age 50 were repeatedly monitored between 1960 and 2000.
They looked into how much alcohol the men drank, what type it was, and over what period, to see whether this had any impact on the risks of their dying from cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and from all causes.
They also tracked weight and diet, whether the men smoked, and for how long, and checked for the presence of serious illness.
The scientists found that light long-term alcohol consumption of all types - up to 20g a day- extended life by around two extra years compared with no alcohol at all. Extended life expectancy was slightly less for those who drank more than 20g.
Men who drank only wine, and less than half a glass of it a day, lived around two-and-a-half years longer than those who drank beer and spirits, and almost five years longer than those who drank no alcohol at all, the study found.
Drinking wine was strongly associated with a lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and death from all causes.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: "This study reinforces the view taken by a Government committee some years ago that moderate consumption of alcohol can have a positive impact on people's health, particularly in relation to heart disease.
"It's important to recognise the benefits of moderate consumption while acknowledging the risks associated with alcohol misuse."
Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker said: "Alongside other research into drinking patterns, there are a very limited number of people for whom moderate alcohol intake may be beneficial, but this must be weighed up against the serious risks caused by drinking at more than moderate amounts.
"Individual risk must be taken into account - research earlier this year found that drinking a small glass of wine per day actually increases the risk of cancer in women.
"The notion that we can somehow use alcohol for health benefit is a dangerous one. Swapping a healthy lifestyle for half a glass of wine a day would be counter-productive."
The research is to be printed in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "This study concentrates on drinkers who consumed no more than half a glass of wine a day, well within lower risk drinking limits.
"Drinking more than the recommended daily limits however can have serious knock on effects on our health including increasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.
"We are working harder than ever to reduce alcohol related hospital admissions, and to help those who regularly drink too much or are dependent on alcohol.
"We have already invested £10 million in the 'Know Your Limits' campaign which arms people with the facts about the number of units in different drinks, and a campaign targeting 18 to 24-year-old drinkers challenging public acceptability of drunkenness and binge drinking was launched last year."
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