Men who drink about half a glass of wine a day over decades may outlive teetotalers by four years on average, a 40-year Dutch study shows.

But that's not a reason to start drinking, or to drink too much, the researchers say.

"Since alcohol consumption can be addictive, starting to drink alcohol because of its positive health benefits is not advised," says researcher Martinette Streppel in an American Heart Association news release.

Men who currently drink "should do so lightly (one to two glasses per day) and preferably drink wine," says Streppel, a graduate student at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

A standard drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor such as rum, vodka, or whiskey.

The study was presented today in Orlando, Fla., at the American Heart Association's 47th annual conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

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Moderate Drinking, Longer Life

Streppel and colleagues studied data on 1,373 men living in the Dutch town of Zutphen.

The men were followed from 1960 (when they were 40-60 years old), until death or June 2000, whichever came first. During that time, the men completed up to seven surveys about their drinking habits.

Men who drank any type of alcohol -- in moderate amounts -- tended to live longer, and the wine drinkers lived longest of all.

Compared with teetotalers, men who reported moderate drinking (less than two glasses per day) of any type of alcohol were 33 percent less likely to die of any cause and 28 percent less likely to die of heart problems during the study.

Wine showed benefits over other forms of alcohol. Compared with men who drank no wine, those who drank about half a glass daily were 38 percent less likely to die of any cause and 46 percent likely to die of heart problems during the study.

On average, wine drinkers lived four years longer than men who drank no wine or other alcohol.

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Heart Benefits?

Modest amounts of alcohol, especially wine, may be good for men's hearts, the researchers note.

Light alcohol intake may boost HDL ("good") cholesterol and help prevent blood clots, says Streppel.

The researchers didn't ask men to change their drinking habits, and the data don't show the men's other lifestyle habits, including diet, exercise, and smoking.

So the study doesn't prove wine or other types of alcohol were the sole reason for the men's longevity.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: American Heart Association's 47th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 28-March 3, 2007. News release, American Heart Association. CDC: "Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions."