As scientists continue to debate the possible benefits of moderate drinking, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have found that it may help some people survive after heart attacks. "Our study does not answer the question whether alcohol is good for you," lead author Kenneth J. Mukamal cautions. "For moderate drinkers these findings are consistent with a lower risk of death from drinking a limited amount of alcohol. But we don't know if people who are nondrinkers would also have a lower risk."

Mukamal and his colleagues, who report the results of their study in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at 1,913 people hospitalized after heart attacks in the U.S. between 1989 and 1994. Nearly half, or 47 percent, of the subjects did not drink. Another 36 percent were light drinkers, defined as having fewer than seven drinks a week, and 17 percent were moderate drinkers, who consumed an average of 14 alcoholic beverages a week. The scientists then reevaluated the participants roughly four years later.

As of January 1996, 317 subjects had died. Whereas 17 percent of the nondrinkers had died from cardiovascular complications, only 9 percent of the light drinkers and 7 percent of the moderate drinkers had suffered a similar fate. "While the findings from this and other studies suggest that moderate alcohol drinkers have a lower risk of suffering a heart attack and of dying after a heart attack, people who have heart disease or a family history of the disease should consult their physicians about ways to reduce their risk," Mukamal says. "The balance of risks and benefits from alcohol will be different for every individual."