A drink or two a day may put a spring in your step.
Researchers have linked moderate drinking by men with a one-third lower risk of arterial disease that squeezes blood flow to the legs.
The alcohol apparently helps keep arteries open by increasing levels of “good cholesterol” in the blood.
The findings echo those of previous studies suggesting that moderate drinking reduces the risk of circulatory disease in the brain and heart.
Many doctors, however, are uneasy with the notion that drinking can be good for your health.
“This is not a situation where if a little is good, more is better,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Charles H. Hennekens of Harvard University Medical School. “Non-drinkers shouldn’t start drinking, and occasional drinkers shouldn’t increase their alcohol intake.”
The findings were published in today’s issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.
Past attempts to tie drinking and reduced hardening of the leg arteries found either no association or only a weak link. That could be because so many people who drink also smoke, greatly increasing their risk of circulation problems in the legs.
In the new study, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard surveyed 22,071 apparently healthy male doctors, only 11 percent of them smokers. During 11 years of follow-up, 433 developed peripheral arterial disease, or hardening of the arteries in the legs.
After adjusting statistically for smoking, the scientists found a 32 percent lower risk among men who reported having one or two drinks per day, compared with men who said they had less than one drink per week.
A drink was defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1-1/2 ounces of 80-proof alcohol.
Dr. Thomas A. Pearson, a cardiologist with the Columbia University School of Public Health, said the study is valuable because it isolated the benefits of drinking from the harmful effects of smoking.
“That gets this out of the way so we can be even more alarmed about smoking than we are,” Pearson said.