Two glasses of wine a day may not be good for heart

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Evidence that drinking two glasses of wine a day is good for you is misleading, researchers say.

Conventional medical wisdom has been that moderate drinking - a pint of beer or a couple of glasses of wine a day - was good for the heart. But researchers warned yesterday that the apparent effect was probably because of other differences between drinkers and non-drinkers, unrelated to their alcohol consumption.

The belief that drinking is healthy in moderation stemmed from a paper published in The Lancet in 1979 which first highlighted the protective effect of alcohol on the heart. But writing in the current issue of The Lancet, public health experts from New Zealand cite a large US study published earlier this year of 200,000 adults which found drinkers were healthier than non-drinkers, independently of their drinking.

Of 30 risk factors for heart disease, 27 were significantly more common in the non-drinkers. The lower incidence of heart attacks in the drinkers is likely to be due to this difference in risk and have nothing to do with their alcohol consumption. The authors say, if anything, the evidence is more compelling for a protective effect on the heart from heavy drinking. But this is outweighed by the other damaging effects. In the case of light to moderate drinking, any protective effect on the heart "will be very small and unlikely to outweigh the harms".

The authors conclude: "The public health message is clear: do not assume there is a window in which the health benefits of alcohol are greater than the harms - there is probably no free lunch."