- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

It’s been known for years that light drinking benefits the heart, and now, some American and Italian researchers think they know why.

Reporting in the current issue of the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, researchers at the National Institute on Aging and the University of Ferrara, Italy, suggest that light-to-moderate alcohol use helps the heart by reducing inflammation of coronary arteries.

Their findings were based on a study of “3,075 well-functioning white men and women, aged 70 to 79 years,” living in Pittsburgh and Memphis, who were participating in a research project known as the Health, Aging and Body Composition study, or Health ABC.

The researchers noted in their published report that there is “strong evidence that increased levels of inflammatory markers,” including proteins known as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), “predict the onset of poor health outcomes, particularly cardiovascular events and mortality in middle-aged and older people.”

Their study suggested drinking levels can influence the amount of potentially harmful proteins in the bloodstream.

It found that, in both men and women, those who never drank alcoholic beverages and those who drank eight or more drinks weekly were at a greater risk of having high levels of CRP and IL-6 than those who consumed between one and seven drinks weekly.

The researchers, led by Dr. Stefano Volpato of the University of Ferrara, said the categories for the study were chosen based on U.S. dietary guidelines that recommend that women have no more than one drink per day and that men have no more than two drinks daily.

Nearly half of the study participants said they did not drink during the previous year, yet most of them acknowledged that they had drunk some alcohol in the past. Among the drinkers surveyed, most drank either occasionally or one to seven drinks weekly. Only 2.8 percent said they imbibed more than 14 drinks a week, and men accounted for 85 percent.

The study found that subjects who were consuming one to seven drinks weekly had a 15 percent probability of having high levels of both CRP and IL-6. That was lower than the 20.1 percent among those who never drank an alcoholic beverage and the 27 percent to 28 percent of those who drank more than seven such beverages weekly.

Particularly startling was a finding that “participants who never drank had a 42 percent increased risk of being in the top third of the IL-6 and CRP distribution.”

The researchers acknowledged there was a drawback to their work, because it was based on self-reported drinking habits. But they pointed out that their findings follow other studies that found an association “between moderate alcohol intake and lower levels of CRP” in samples of middle-aged men and women.

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