Drinking alcohol every day cuts the risk of heart disease in men by more than a third, a major study suggests.
Female drinkers did not benefit to the same extent, the study in Heart found.
Experts are critical, warning heavy drinking can increase the risk of other diseases, with alcohol responsible for 1.8 million deaths globally per year.
The study was conducted in Spain, a country with relatively high rates of alcohol consumption and low rates of coronary heart disease.
The research involved men and women aged between 29 and 69, who were asked to document their lifetime drinking habits and followed for 10 years.
Crucially the research team claim to have eliminated the “sick abstainers” risk by differentiating between those who had never drunk and those whom ill-health had forced to quit. This has been used in the past to explain fewer heart-related deaths among drinkers on the basis that those who are unhealthy to start with are less likely to drink.
The researchers from centres across Spain placed the participants into six categories – from never having drunk to drinking more than 90g of alcohol each day. This would be the equivalent of consuming about eight bottles of wine a week, or 28 pints of lager.
For those drinking little – less than a shot of vodka a day for instance – the risk was reduced by 35%. And for those who drank anything from three shots to more than 11 shots each day, the risk worked out an average of 50% less.
The same benefits were not seen in women, who suffer fewer heart problems than men to start with. Researchers speculated this difference could be down to the fact that women process alcohol differently, and that female hormones protect against the disease in younger age groups.
The type of alcohol drunk did not seem to make a difference, but protection was greater for those drinking moderate to high amounts of varied drinks.
The exact mechanisms are as yet unclear, but it is known that alcohol helps to raise high-density lipoproteins, sometimes known as good cholesterol, which helps stop so-called bad cholesterol from building up in the arteries.
Read more on the BBC website.