A tipple a day can keep the doctor away for people in later life, scientists have shown.
Researchers who studied more than 2,400 adults in their 70s found those who consumed one to seven alcoholic drinks a week were likely to live longer and have fewer heart attacks.
Participants answered questions on their drinking habits and underwent a health check every year.
They were classified as "never or occasional" drinkers who consumed less than one drink a week, "light to moderate" (one to seven drinks) or "heavier" (more than seven).
Over an average 5.6 years of follow-up, 397 volunteers died and 383 experienced a cardiac event such as a heart attack or heart failure.
Compared with "never or occasional" drinkers, those who drank lightly to moderately had a 26 per cent lower risk of death and an almost 30 per cent reduced risk of cardiac events.
But you can have too much of a good thing, the researchers found. Heavy drinkers were more likely to die or experience a cardiac event than those who drank the least. The scientists believe the health effects of alcohol may be linked to reduced levels of inflammation.
But this alone could not explain the extent of the benefit seen in the study, they said. It was possible alcohol also had cellular or molecular effects that reduced the risk of heart disease, or interacted with genetic factors in a protective way.
The researchers warned that the positive effects of alcohol may not be the same for everyone.
They wrote in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine: "The net benefit of light to moderate alcohol consumption may vary as a function of sex, race and background cardiovascular risk.
"From this point of view, recommendations on alcohol consumption should be based, as any medical advice, on a careful evaluation of an individual's risks and benefits, in the context of adequate treatment and control of established cardiovascular risk factors."