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Light drinking may help men avoid sudden cardiac death

Men's Health
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August 30, 1999
Web posted at: 4:01 p.m. EDT (2001 GMT)

DALLAS (CNN) -- Consuming two to six alcoholic drinks per week can greatly reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, according to a new report from researchers at Harvard Medical School.

The Physicians' Health Study used data from 21,537 men over a 12-year period. Researchers found that men who had two to four drinks per week lessened their risk for sudden cardiac death by 60 percent. Those who had five to six drinks per week lowered their risk by 79 percent.

Though some alcohol is good, more may not be better. Rates of sudden cardiac death increased among people who had more than two drinks per day, the study found.

The research did not look at drinking patterns. However, it is generally agreed among scientists that binge drinking, or drinking large amounts of alcohol in brief periods, can cause abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

Though the study's findings are considered significant, its authors are not recommending that people start drinking.

"Based on the data, I wouldn't recommend that non-drinkers start drinking," said Christine M. Albert, M.D., lead researcher. "One has to consider all the risks and benefits of drinking alcohol. You don't know how likely a person is to become addicted to alcohol, and there is also the risk of cancer to consider."

Previous studies have found that heavy alcohol consumption may increase an individual's risk of certain types of cancer.

"Consuming two or more drinks per day has been associated with an increased breast cancer risk in women. This study was done only in men, so we can't be sure if our results would apply to women as well," said Albert.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is responsible for about half of all deaths from heart disease, the nation's biggest killer. SCD is usually caused by irregular heart rhythms. Heart attack, the death of heart muscle due to loss of blood supply, rarely causes SCD.

Prior studies have pointed to a similar beneficial effect of alcohol when consumed in moderate amounts. This study, however, is the largest to date. It is published in the American Heart Association's journal, Circulation.



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