Repeated studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Now a new look at the accumulated evidence shows that it does even more, cutting the risk of death from all causes in both men and women.

Epidemiologists in Italy pooled data from 17 U.S. studies and 17 studies in other countries that involved a total of more than 1 million adults and almost 100,000 deaths. Results showed a J-shaped dose-response relationship between total mortality and alcohol intake: Up to four drinks a day in men and two drinks per day in women reduced the risk of death from any cause by 17% in men and 18% in women. When consumption went above those levels, mortality climbed; the higher the alcohol consumption, the higher the death rate.

Lead investigator Augusto Di Castelnuovo, ScD, of Catholic University in Campobasso, Italy, cautions that alcohol should always be avoided by pregnant women and “persons who suffer, or have suffered from, alcohol-related diseases.”

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As for the rest of the population, “Heavy drinkers should be urged to cut their consumption, but people who already regularly consume low to moderate amounts of alcohol should be encouraged to continue. Alcohol can be a respectful guest on the dinner table” (Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:2437-2445).