A study comparing hospital admissions in “wet” versus “dry” counties in Texas offers a surprising new perspective on how alcohol consumption may affect the health of your heart.

The analysis found that people living in dry counties, where sales of alcoholic beverages are prohibited, had a higher risk of being hospitalized for a heart attack or congestive heart failure than people living in wet counties, where such sales are allowed. But residents of wet counties were at elevated risk for a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation.

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The report, published last week in the British Medical Journal, or BMJ, is the latest to address a long-running controversy in heart-disease prevention: Does alcohol contribute to, or protect against, heart disease?

Researchers took advantage of the legacy of Prohibition-era laws in Texas to compare heart-related illnesses where access to alcohol had been curbed for decades with illnesses where alcoholic beverages have been commonly available.

The upshot: “It’s not so simple that alcohol is good for you or alcohol is bad for you,” says Gregory Marcus, associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco and senior author of the study. “Rather it depends on the individual.”

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