Volume 96, Issue 59
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

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Booze good for heart, not just the soul

By Des Stutchbury
Gazette Writer

Drink up guys – gals you're on your own.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that moderate drinking – three or four times a week – led to a 35 per cent lower risk of a heart attack in comparison to non-drinkers.

The researchers examined 38,077 men between 1986 and 1998, whose ages ranged from 40 to 75.

"Even relatively modest amounts of alcohol may be protective if consumed frequently," said Kenneth Mukamal, assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

"Our results document that a pattern of regular consumption of at least three to four days per week is associated with the lowest risk of heart attacks," Mukamal explained, adding the study's findings cannot be generalized without some reservations.

The study indicated that the variable consistently associated with a lower risk of heart attack was the number of times per week a participant drank alcoholic beverages. Age, smoking, exercise, family history of heart disease, body-mass index, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, aspirin use and diet were also factored into the study.

Mukamal said alcohol may be improving how the body metabolizes blood sugar.

"In general, alcohol raises levels of HDL – the good cholesterol. But, in addition, alcohol impacts the body's sensitivity to insulin, as well as platelet function and clotting factors. It seems that alcohol's influence on platelets and clotting is relatively short-term. This could explain why frequent alcohol intake [can help] guard against coronary heart disease," Mukamal explained.

"Drinking twice as much does not produce twice the health effects. Higher levels of consumption produce detrimental effects," said Western sociology professor Paul Whitehead.

"Drinking in moderation is good, like the study says. The French drink red wine with every meal and it is commonly known they have the lowest incidence of heart attacks in the world," said Ryan Petrimoulx, a fourth-year history student.

"The main reasons I don't like drinking is because a lot of students complain they have no money, yet, they spend three nights a week at the bar and drop $50 a night. OSAP money could go to better use," said Hayley Walker, a third-year social science student.

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2002 THE GAZETTE