Long recognized as a stress reducer that cuts the risk of heart disease and strokes, wine and other forms of alcohol may have anti-clotting properties and boost blood levels of high-density lipoprotein, the so-called good cholesterol.
The study found that hypertensive men who drank moderately - one or two drinks per day - had a 44 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than nondrinkers with high blood pressure.
Based on an ongoing survey of 14,126 male doctors, the Physicians' Health Study, the five-year study concluded the overall risk of death was 28 percent lower among moderate drinkers with hypertension compared to hypertensive nondrinkers.
The benefit was also seen among light drinkers of one to six drinks a week, but the more alcohol consumed - as long as it remained moderate - the lower the risk of dying.
As with other studies that have concluded drinking can be good for one's health, the researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston warned about health problems such as liver damage, high blood pressure and obesity that can accompany heavy drinking.
"However, patients with hypertension who are able to maintain light to moderate alcohol intake have no compelling reason to change their lifestyle and eliminate a possibly beneficial habit," lead author Michael Gaziano wrote in the study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine.
There are a variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, but the findings call into question current American Heart Association guidelines that recommend hypertensive patients avoid alcohol completely, the report said.
Daily Drink Eases Hypertensives' Heart Risk, Mar 22, 2004.