A few drinks each day may help improve the function of the lungs, according to researchers.

The study, conducted by Dr. Stanton T. Siu, chief of pulmonary medicine at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland, Calif., found that in addition to dietary changes, alcohol in moderation may also improve the overall function of the lungs.

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Siu and his colleagues studied the health records of almost 178,000 patients in northern California, who had participated in a health questionnaire and exam that recorded their smoking and drinking habits as well as the health of their lungs at the time. In the study, 61 percent of the volunteers reported some kind of cardio or respiratory illness.

Another group of approximately 61 percent also said that they consumed less than two alcoholic drinks per day while 8 percent consumed three to five drinks, and more than 2 percent said that they drank six or more glasses per day. A little more than 21 percent said they consumed no alcohol at all. In addition to the questionnaire, participants also underwent pulmonary function tests, to examine their breathing.

The researchers found that those who were light to moderate drinkers, or consumed less than two drinks per day, were the least likely to have lung problems, regardless of their smoking habits or previous lung or heart disease.