You may feel a guilty twinge if you indulge in a glass of wine or two a couple of times a week.
But in fact your drinking habits may be boosting your heart health – if you’re middle class.
For a study has found that alcohol can protect against heart disease, with the middle class and wealthy benefiting most.
People who drink a moderate amount two to three times a week had a lower risk of dying from heart attacks or strokes than less frequent drinkers.
While all moderate drinkers benefited, the protective effect was greatest among the wealthiest members of society. And very frequent alcohol intake – defined as drinking four to seven times a week – increased the risk of death from heart disease only among the poorest members of society.
Middle and upper class people who drink very frequently had a ‘lower or comparable risk’ of heart disease and stroke compared to those who had less than two drinks a week.
However, all of those who binge drank once a week or more – defined as five or more units in one session – did not benefit from any protective effect on the heart. They had a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who did not binge at all in the past year or abstained.
Why someone’s social class changes the effect booze has on the body – known as the ‘alcohol harm paradox’ – is unclear, the Norwegian researchers said.
They suggest that the better-off may be able to drink more because they may have healthier lifestyles, benefiting from the protective effects of eating better food and getting more exercise.
Poorer drinkers may also be more likely to smoke cigarettes or eat high fat junk food – or not eat at all – at the same time as consuming booze, ‘while advantaged individuals may be more prone to combine drinking with advantageous health-related behaviours and characteristics’.
The researchers, led by Norwegian Institute of Public Health, added the study highlights the difficulty of setting drinking guidelines that can apply to everyone.
The team based their findings on surveys of 207,394 Norwegians born before October 1960 who completed mandatory censuses between 1960 and 1990.
Socio-economic status was determined by factors including level of education, and the size of the respondent’s house.
Writing in the journal PLOS Medicine, the researchers said: ‘Moderately frequent drinking was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease, heart attacks and angina and all-cause mortality compared with infrequent drinking and we observed that this association was more pronounced among participants with high socio-economic position.’