That news appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
It is based on a 16-year study that looked at the habits of 8,800 male health professionals.
The findings show that men who reported drinking half a drink to two drinks daily were least likely to have had heart attacks.
Researchers included Kenneth Mukamal, MD, MPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
However, the researchers aren't telling teetotalers to start drinking.
Instead, they urge doctors and patients to "weigh both the absolute risks and benefits of alcohol when discussing alcohol intake."
Alcohol consumption has pros and cons, and drinking doesn't replace eating healthfully, watching your weight, being physically active, and refraining from smoking.
"Our results suggest that moderate drinking could be viewed as a complement, rather than an alternative, to these other lifestyle interventions," write the researchers.
Participants in the 16-year study completed surveys about their health, diets, lifestyles, and drinking habits every two years, starting in 1986.
They all had four things going for their heart health:
- They weren't overweight or obese.
- They were nonsmokers.
- They got high scores on a diet survey.
- They got at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity daily.
A high dietary score meant favoring vegetables, fruit, fish, chicken, nuts, soy, heart-healthy fats, and fiber from grains. It also meant taking a multivitamin and avoiding trans fat.
Moderate to vigorous activities included running, swimming, bicycling, playing racquetball or tennis, and doing calisthenics.
The men reported how often they drank beer, white wine, red wine, and liquor; most reported no more than two drinks a day.
During the 16-year study, the group had 106 heart attacks, with the drinkers least likely to do so.
The results don't prove drinking alcohol made the men less likely to have heart attacks. It's possible some other factor helped the men's hearts.
Drinking studies have shown a "complicated mix of risks and benefits," note Mukamal and colleagues.
For instance, they write, "Even moderate drinking has potential health risks, such as breast cancer in women."
Mukamal's study didn't include women.
What's a Drink?
If you choose to drink, you might want to keep these standard serving sizes in mind: A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Those definitions come from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Mukamal, K. Archives of Internal Medicine, Oct. 23, 2006; vol 166: pp 2145-2150. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "How to Cut Down on Your Drinking." News release, JAMA/Archives.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang