Acouple of glasses of wine or beer each night lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease, new research has shown.
Although alcohol was found to raise the risk of breast cancer for women, it appears to have a protective effect on the heart.
A study of 22,000 post-menopausal women in Denmark found those who increased their alcohol intake by two drinks per day over five years had a 20 per cent decreased risk of coronary heart disease and a 30 per cent increased risk of breast cancer.
In January Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, issued new alcohol guidelines which drastically cut the safe level of consumption to a maximum of 14 units a week for both men and women, which equates to less than two glasses of wine per night.
Dame Sally also told women to think about the risks of breast cancerbefore deciding whether to have a glass of wine. Alcohol is responsible for about 11 per cent of female breast cancers in the UK.
Although the new research did find a link to cancer, it also showed that alcohol may be beneficial for other health conditions. Experts believe that alcohol can bring down the risk of heart disease by raising levels of ‘good’ cholesterol
The study, by the University of Southern Denmark, also found that lowering alcohol intake did not lower the risk for either disease.
“We found that an increased alcohol intake over a five year period resulted in a higher risk of breast cancer and a lower risk of coronary heart disease among postmenopausal women, compared with a stable alcohol intake,” said lead author Professor Janne Tolstrup .
“The results support the hypotheses that alcohol is associated with breast cancer and coronary heart disease in opposite directions.”
There are 80,000 deaths from heart disease each year and it will cause the deaths of one in five men and one in seven women.
Research by the Mediterranean Neurological Institute published this week also found that drinking two small cans of beer a day protects against heart disease by around one quarter.
The authors looked at 150 studies into the link between heart disease and beer and came to the conclusion that moderate drinking is likely to be beneficial.
“Unless they are at high risk for alcohol-related cancers or alcohol dependency there is no reason to discourage healthy adults who are already light or moderate beer consumers from continuing,” they said.
In February Dame Sally told the House of Commons science and technology committee that evidence suggesting wine could protect the heart was less robust than had previously been thought.
And she said the NHS had “done so much with statins” and other medical treatments for heart disease that the case for drinking wine to protect the heart was weaker than it used to be.
Professor Tim Key, Deputy Director, Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford also said there were better ways to lower heart disease risk than drinking alcohol.
“There may be some benefit with low to moderate intakes of alcohol, but this could be outweighed by an increased risk of breast cancer and other morbidities.
“The risk of heart disease can be reduced substantially by other lifestyle changes, as well as by drugs such as statins shown to be effective in primary prevention.”
Charities also warned that it was still important to lower alcohol intake.
Sally Greenbrook, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said: “When it comes to an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer, it is difficult to separate out the real impact of food from other lifestyle factors and so we would encourage everyone to be as active as possible and to limit alcohol intake, in addition to eating a healthy diet.”