The researchers computed several variables. Drinking status was categorized as lifetime abstainers (women who reported never having 12 or more drinks in their lifetime or in any 1-year period); non-current drinkers (those who didn't consume at least one drink per month during the reference period), and current drinkers.
Additional variables calculated were: total ounces of alcohol consumed; drinks per drinking day; drinking frequency; drinking primarily with food; beverage preference -- wine, beer, liquor, or some of each; and frequency of intoxication -- current drinkers who stated they drank enough to get drunk or very high, once or more a month, and less than once a month.
Results showed that in this population-based study, women who drank moderately had a significantly lower risk of heart attack than abstainers, and the benefits were greatest in women who had a drink daily. A lower risk for drinkers than abstainers also was evident in women who drank with food, as well as without, and in those who primarily drank wine or a variety of alcoholic beverages.
Similar, but weaker, associations were found when patterns and volume were analyzed among drinkers only. Among these women, drinking alcohol in moderation in general was more important than the actual amount consumed. However, getting drunk at least once a month puts women at a significantly increased risk of heart attack, negating any of alcohol's potential protective effect.
Dorn emphasized that no one should interpret these finding as a reason to begin consuming alcohol, because alcohol brings with it risks for other conditions, such as breast cancer.
"I certainly wouldn't recommend that women start drinking, but among those who do, if they are concerning about heart health, the message is that a small amount is ok, she said.
The study is published in the May 2007 issue of the journal Addiction.
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