10:58 20 November 2009
A controversial study has stated that heavy drinking in men is actually good for their hearts.
Consuming a bottle of wine each day or six bottles of beer may cut the risk of heart disease by more than half according to new research although health chiefs have warned that the findings should not be taken at face value.
In one of the largest studies on the key link between alcohol consumption and heart disease, Spanish research trialled more than 41,000 people aged between 29 and 69 before publishing their findings in the medical journal Heart.
They found that alcohol consumption could protect men from heart disease regardless of the amount or type of alcohol they consumed. But the study found no significant effect in women.
It has widely been documented before the moderate consumption of alcohol can be beneficial to the heart. This study controversially suggests that levels of what is constituted as "binge drinking" also offers protection.
Health experts, however, warned that heavy drinking can damage other organs (specifically the liver), cause premature death as well as decreased social interaction levels and general accidents.
The Spanish researchers questioned participants in the study on their lifetime drinking habits, and how much they had consumed in the 12 months prior to the study.
Respondents were classed as those who had never consumed alcohol, former drinkers, low drinkers (drinking the equivalent of less than 5g of alcohol a day), moderate drinkers (between 5g and 30g a day), high drinkers (between 30g and 90g) and very high drinkers (more than 90g a day).
In Britain, one unit of alcohol contains 8g which is the equivalent to about half a pint of average strength beer (3-4% alcohol by volume), or a small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (40%).
The number of coronary problems suffered over a ten-year period was then recorded and categorised according to alcohol consumption.
The results showed moderate male drinkers could cut their risk by 51%, even higher drinkers by 54% and it fell slightly for very high drinkers by 50%.
Robert Sutton, professor of surgery at the University of Liverpool, claimed that the study had several flaws and warned that high alcohol consumption can impair health.
But he found that the lack of relationship between alcohol and heart disease in women was highly unusual and suggested that more, similar research be carried out.
Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: While moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of having a heart attack, coronary heart disease is just one type of heart disease.
Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, is associated with high alcohol intake and can lead to a poor quality of life and premature death.
The heart is just one of many organs in the body, and while alcohol could offer limited protection to one organ, abuse of it can damage the heart and other organs such as the liver, pancreas and brain.
This study does not change the message that drinking moderately can be beneficial to the heart, but drinking in excess is harmful and a danger to your health generally.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We will consider this particular report in full, but it is important to note this is currently one study amongst a wide range of published research into the relationship between alcohol and heart disease. It needs to be looked at alongside other research and to be considered within the whole body of evidence on this topic."
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