Since the evidence that drinking can help prevent heart disease began to emerge in the 1970s, health nannies have worried that publicizing the connection would encourage alcohol abuse. But the latest study to confirm the health benefits of drinking suggests there is little cause for worry on that score.
The study, reported in the January 9 New England Journal of Medicine, indicates that the key to alcohol's cardiovascular benefits is drinking frequently, rather than drinking a lot. The researchers, who followed 38,000 men for 12 years, found that subjects who drank three or more days a week were one-third less likely to have a heart attack than those who drank less than once a week. The risk reduction for men who drank once or twice a week was 16 percent.
It did not matter what kind of alcohol the men drank, or whether it was consumed with meals. Surprisingly, the amount consumed on each occasion did not make much difference either. Once the glass is half empty, it seems, you're more or less drinking in the spirit of Psalm 104, which calls "wine that cheers the hearts of men" a divine blessing.
Speaking of which, an article published around the same time in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that "the total number of binge-drinking episodes among U.S. adults increased from approximately 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion" between 1993 and 2001. It was hard to know how alarmed to be about this finding, however, since it was based on a survey that defined binge as "consumption of 5 or more alcoholic beverages on 1 occasion."
Clearly, one man's dinner party is another man's binge—especially if the other man has a degree in public health.