The study, by a team led by Cinzia Maraldi of the University of Florida, showed that when compared with never or occasional drinkers, those who drank lightly to moderately had a 26 per cent lower risk of death over all and an almost 30 per cent lower risk of cardiac events.
The findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
Light to moderate alcohol intake reduces levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, compounds that circulate in the blood due to inflammation, the study showed.
The study investigated the relationship between alcohol, death and cardiac events in 2,487 adults without heart disease of the 70-79 age group.
Participants (average age 73.5 years, 55 per cent women) were recruited between April 1997 and June 1998. They answered queries about disease diagnoses, medication use and drinking habits during an initial interview.
The participants were classified based on how many drinks they consumed in a typical week over the past year; the categories were former; never or occasional (less than one drink per week); light to moderate (one to seven); and heavier (more than seven).
During the study, each individual was contacted by telephone every six months and had a clinical assessment every year. Levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 in blood were also tested.