Plenty of research shows that light to moderate intake of alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of heart problems.
Now the most comprehensive study yet -- involving 2 million people -- shows that moderate drinkers are 44 percent less likely to die from a sudden cardiovascular-related event than those who don't drink, are 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack, 22 percent less likely to have peripheral artery disease, and 12 percent less likely to have a stroke.
That's a huge difference.
According to the study, "Evidence from short term alcohol feeding interventions has shown that moderate drinking is related to higher concentrations of high density lipoprotein cholesterol and adiponectin, as well as lower concentrations of fibrinogen... given this, it could be hypothesized that moderate alcohol consumption might be protective for some cardiovascular diseases but not others."
Or in non-researcher speak, moderate drinking raises HDL cholesterol, which has a heart-protective effect, but moderate drinking won't protect you from every cardiovascular disease.
What is "moderate" drinking? A single shot of alcohol, two beers, or two small glasses of wine. (Drink more and you'll eliminate the benefits.)
But that doesn't mean you should start drinking every day if you currently do not.
More researcher-speak: "While we found that moderate drinkers were less likely to initially present with several cardiovascular diseases than non-drinkers, it could be argued that it would be unwise to encourage individuals to take up drinking as a means of lowering their risk (although it must be noted that the findings from this study do not directly support this as we did not consider transitions from non-drinking to drinking). This is because there are arguably safer and more effective ways of reducing cardiovascular risk, such as increasing physical activity and smoking cessation, which do not incur increased risks of alcohol related harm such as alcohol dependence, liver disease, and cancer.
"Ultimately an individual's decision to drink should not be considered in isolation from other health behaviors or risk factors and instead be motivated by their own personal circumstances."
So what's the bottom line? If you enjoy drinking a couple glasses of wine at night, roll on. If you like settling in with a beer or two, roll on. If walking in the door to a Don Draper-like cocktail is your thing, roll on.
But don't forget that a little exercise goes a long way too. Not only can improving your cardiovascular fitness help you avoid the risk of heart disease, if you do have a problem, being in better shape can also make it more likely that you survive the initial event and then have fewer long-term complications. (Trust me -- I know.)
Either way, the next time you raise a glass and say, "To your health," you really do mean it.