A couple enjoying a drinkA large-scale review study has confirmed the general health benefits of a small amount of alcohol everyday in most people.

The study, conducted by James H. O’Keefe from the University of Missouri and his colleagues, conducted an extensive literature review on existing studies that examined the relationship between the amount of alcoholic intake and one’s health.

Light to moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 drink daily for women and 1 or 2 drinks daily for men) is associated with protective benefits for the heart. Increasingly excessive alcoholic consumption results in a proportional worsening of health outcomes in most people.

The benefits, the researchers discovered, don’t appear to be specific to a certain type of alcoholic beverage. They concluded, therefore, that the ethanol itself in alcohol, rather than specific components of various alcoholic beverages, appears to be the major factor in conferring health benefits. The researchers believe the cardiovascular protection is obtained mainly through improvements in insulin sensitivity and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

The study also found that a small, daily amount of alcohol consumption is associated with better health than less frequent alcohol consumption.

Drinking more than one or two drinks per day confers no additional heart benefits. In fact, anything over the 1 or 2 drink/day limit found heart outcomes that were worse than not drinking at all.

Binge drinking, even among otherwise light drinkers, increases cardiovascular events — such as heart attacks — and the chances of death.

The researchers used the standard research definition of a drink — a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor which all have between 13 and 15 grams of alcohol.

The health benefits of a once daily alcoholic beverage include reductions in the incidence of coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, and dementia.

Despite the health benefit of moderate alcohol consumption, the researchers warn doctors against advising people to drink.

“Sobering statistics warn that moderate daily drinking is a slippery slope that many individuals cannot safely navigate,” said the researchers in the study.

The study appears in the September 11 2007 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.