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HEALTH REPORT – January 29, 2003: Alcohol and Heart Attacks - 2003-01-28

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A new study says drinking beer, wine or other alcoholic drinks several times a week can help prevent heart attacks in men. Kenneth Mukamal (MUCK-a-mal) of Harvard University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts led the study. It said men who drank moderate amounts of alcohol three or more times a week were about thirty percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers. The kind of alcoholic drink did not appear important.

Doctor Mukamal says drinking even a little alcohol several times a week can protect the heart.The study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center completed the study. They developed their findings from a twelve-year study of almost forty-thousand men. The men were ages forty to seventy-five.

The researchers recorded how much alcohol the men drank and how often. They noted the kind of alcohol and whether the men drank it with meals. They also considered other facts. These included the men’s ages, use of tobacco, physical activity and whether their parents had heart disease.

Doctor Mukamal says there are several reasons for the results of the study. Alcohol usually raises levels of H-D-L, the so-called good kind of cholesterol. In addition, alcohol affects the body’s reaction to the hormone insulin. Insulin helps control sugar in the blood. And alcohol may improve how the body processes blood sugar. Alcohol also affects two important blood processes. This may help prevent blockages in blood vessels that cause heart attacks.

Earlier studies show moderate alcohol use also could help prevent heart attacks in women. But too much alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

However, not all doctors agree that drinking alcohol is a good way to prevent heart attacks. The head of preventive medicine at Columbia University in New York City says medicines currently in use can help prevent heart attacks. Ira Goldberg says people can take these medicines without the risk of diseases linked to alcohol.

Drinking too much alcohol is bad for the health. It can cause liver problems. And it can lead to deadly accidents while driving or operating machinery. In addition, some people become dependent on alcohol.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.