A study funded by the Dutch Foundation for Alcohol Research has suggested once again that an occasional tipple does the heart good. The new work, conducted through the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research and published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, shows that the cardiac benefits of moderate drinking extend both to middle-aged men and post-menopausal women.

Alcohol consumption helps promote heart health by elevating levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the "good cholesterol" whose presence is linked to lower risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. The Dutch research team tracked HDL levels and those of another enzyme, paraoxonase, that also protects against heart disease, in 10 men aged 45 to 64 and nine post-menopausal women aged 49 to 62. Each participant was studied during a three-week period when no drinking was permitted and a three-week phase during which the guys got four glasses of beer (!) or near-beer (with reduced alcohol content) with dinner and the ladies were served three glasses each. (They were not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages at other times.)

At the end of the beer-swilling period, HDL levels for men and women had risen by an average of nearly 12 percent, while no increase was found during the non-drinking phase.

Acknowledging that the small sample size requires their work to be seen as preliminary, lead author K.D. Waterreus says that a previous study of HDL levels in men demonstrated similar effects and showed that wine, beer and spirits all had the same effect.

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