Men with high blood pressure are usually advised to avoid alcohol, but U.S. and Dutch researchers said on Tuesday that a drink or two every day may reduce their chances of a heart attack.
The study of 11,000 men supports other research that shows small-to-moderate amounts of alcohol can lower the risk of heart disease, by increasing the levels of high density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, and by making blood less likely to clot.
Drinkers in general have a bigger risk of high blood pressure, and heavy drinking raises the risk of early death overall, including from heart disease. But many studies have shown that moderate drinkers may be healthier.
The team at the Harvard School of Public Health, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Wageningen University in the Netherlands wanted to see if men with high blood pressure, who are generally advised not to drink, might safely enjoy a little wine, beer or spirits.
They analyzed data from 11,711 health professionals taking part in a long-term survey between 1986 and 2002.
The men who had one or two drinks a day had lower rates of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks than the others. But their overall death rate was not lower.
Men who had three drinks or more a day on average were not protected.
“Men diagnosed with hypertension probably get a lot of advice on how to change their lifestyle, physical activity and diet,” said Joline Beulens, who led the study. “This study indicates that if they drink alcohol in moderation they may not need to change their drinking habits.”
Beulens, visiting Harvard from Wageningen, said two drinks appear to be the limit - something found in other studies. “So our findings are not a license for men with hypertension to overindulge,” she added in a statement.
“Because excess alcohol intake clearly increases blood pressure, many men with hypertension are counseled not to drink, but our results suggest that may not be necessary if men drink safely and responsibly.”
Writing in Tuesday’s issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers noted that they only studied male health care professionals, so it is not clear whether the findings apply to women or men in different occupations.