By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAYThis year might be a little more festive than last for men with high blood pressure, thanks to a major study out Tuesday showing that one or two drinks a day doesn't appear to boost their heart attack risk.
"We could not find any increased risk of heart disease or death due to heart disease for moderate drinkers," says Joline Beulens of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands via e-mail. "Moderate drinkers may even have a reduced risk for heart attack."
Beulens says the study, which focuses only on men, is the first to question whether men with high blood pressure who drink moderate amounts of alcohol are more prone to fatal or non-fatal heart attacks than non-drinkers.
It is also the latest in a flurry of studies showing that a moderate amount of alcohol can stave off heart disease and death, possibly by increasing levels of artery-scrubbing good cholesterol and preventing deadly blood clots.
About 65 million people in the USA have high blood pressure. Many doctors have long recommended that men with high blood pressure abstain from drinking, based on studies suggesting three or more drinks a day boosts blood pressure, more than doubling their risk of dying from heart disease.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from 11,711 men with hypertension in the Health Professionals Study, begun in 1986. Most were chosen because they developed high blood pressure during the study, when their alcohol consumption could be tracked.
Every four years, they filled out a survey noting how often they drank alcohol. From 1986 to 2002, participants had 653 heart attacks, 279 of them fatal, says the report in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Men who drank half a drink to two drinks a day reduced their heart attack risk by about a third.
"Moderate consumption of alcohol seems to be associated with a lower risk of heart attack, similar to the association seen in healthy men in general," says study co-author Kenneth Mukamal of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.
Researchers found a minimal increase in stroke, so slight statistically that it could have occurred by chance. That may be a little more worrisome for women with high blood pressure, Mukamal says, because they have a slightly higher stroke risk than men.