Q. I read about a study in which people who began drinking in middle age lowered their risk of heart disease. Should I start drinking?
A. The new study you refer to showed that among nearly 8,000 adults, those who began moderate alcohol intake between the ages of 45 and 64 had a much lower risk of heart disease—almost 40 percent lower—than those who remained teetotalers. But there are a few caveats. It's possible that the people who started drinking did so to gain health benefits, which could mean that they made other healthy behavioral changes that contributed to their risk reduction. The second is that the study focused only on heart disease; alcohol can raise the risk of other problems, such as breast cancer and liver disease. The advice I give my patients is this: If any immediate relatives have been diagnosed with liver trouble or breast cancer or suffer from alcoholism, steer clear. Otherwise, feel free to drink moderately—up to one drink daily for women, up to two for men. Red wine is best. And if you have risk factors for heart disease, a glass of wine with dinner for health promotion makes a lot of sense, as long as you carefully weigh your family history.