A Toast To Health, With Ale?

Beer drinkers toasted new Australian research this week that says their beloved amber nectar taken in moderation reduces the risk of fatal heart disease and strokes.

But heavy drinkers were warned that the health risks associated with too much ale outweigh the benefits of drinking one or two glasses a day.

The research, unveiled at a brewing industry-hosted conference, claimed the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and thrombotic stroke was significantly reduced by moderate beer consumption.

Professor Leon Simons, from the University of New South Wales and the Lipid Research Department at Sydney's St. Vincent's Hospital, said research in one town showed men and women who drank in moderation lived longer than those who didn't.

During a 10-year study in the Dubbo, central New South Wales, Simons found that deaths from any cause were significantly reduced for those who drank a beer or two a day. Dubbo was chosen because the majority of drinkers there consume beer rather than wine.

Professor Paul Nestel of the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne said the research would add to the debate about whether heart disease risks can be reduced by small amounts of alcohol generally, or specific kinds of alcohol found in some drinks.

"There have been quite a number of studies which suggest beer alcohol is not linked to less heart disease," Nestel said.

In a study of more than 1,200 men and about 1,500 women born before 1930, Simons' research showed that cardiovascular death was 51 percent in non-drinking males and 42 percent in drinking ones.

Death rates associated with coronary heart disease among women dropped from 53 percent among nondrinkers to 43 percent among drinkers, Simons said.

About 30,000 Australians die each year of coronary heart disease, while strokes claim around 12,000 lives.

Professor Ian Puddey of the University Department of Medicine at Royal Perth Hospital has published research showing that moderate beer consumption reduces risk factors for coronary heart disease cholesterol levels, blood clotting and blood pressure. He agreed that beer drinkers could be doing themselves a health favor but warned against too much of a good thing.

"Our research clearly shows that once alcohol consumption reaches excessive levels, the benefits are outweighed by the risks. It's all a question of balance," he said.